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Full text of "Theophrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim called Paracelsus; his personality and influence as physician, chemist and reformer"

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Preface v 

Introductory 1 

The Early Life of Paracelsus 11 

The Paracelsan View of Nature 25 

Medical Theory 44 

Defiance to Medical Faculty and Profession 63 

As a Reformer in Medicine 80 

The Chemist and Reformer of Chemistry 91 

Contributions to Medical Science and Practice 115 

The Mission and Ethics of the Physician 132 

Paracelsus as a Theological Writer 142 

The Later Years of Strenuous Labor 159 

The Last Days of Paracelsus 174 

Bibliography 181 

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THE following attempt at a characterization of Para- 
celsus and of his place in the history of science owes 
its inception to difficulties met in connection with the prepa- 
ration of a course upon the early history of chemistry. 
Important discrepancies as to facts and violently differing 
judgments as to his influence and value, especially in English 
sources, seemed to make desirable a new attempt at inter- 
pretation. Material for this exists in the studies published 
during the past few decades by a number of scholars, whose 
labors have resulted in seriously modifying century-old 
judgments by the discovery of new evidence and by tracing 
down and correcting earlier errors. 

Especially may be noted among the more recent Para- 
celsus students, Karl Aberle, John Ferguson, Karl Sudhoff, 
Franz Strunz, Raymund Netzhammer, R. J. Hartmann, H. 
Kopp, Heinrich Haser, Max Neuburger, Julius Pagel, Fried- 
rich Mook and Anna M. Stoddart, though many others have 

Studies for this book were begun more than a decade 
ago, and the manuscript was completed before the outbreak 
of the Great War. Publication was then postponed, and 
has been further delayed by the illness and death of Dr. 
Paul Carus, editor of The Open Court and The Monist, to 
whose interest and cordial cooperation in the planning of 
the publication the author is deeply indebted. 

In compiling this work copious literal translations of the 

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writings of Paracelsus have been introduced, in the belief 
that jio other treatment could so well convey some impres- 
sion of the personality of the Swiss physician and the char- 
acter of his appeal to his contemporaries and followers. The 
texts used for that purpose are : the Strassburg folio edition 
of 1616 (the third impression of Huser's original edition of 
1589-90) ; the Chirurgische Bucher und Schrifften, Strass- 
burg, 1618; and extracts from Paracelsus manuscripts as 
contained in Dr. Karl Sudhoff's monumental bibliography 
Versuch einer Kritik der Echtheit der Paracelsischen Schrif- 
ten, 2 vols., Berlin, 1894-99. 

The author takes occasion to express his gratitude to 
Professor Karl Rendtorff of Stanford University for much 
valuable assistance in the interpretation of the Early Ger- 
man texts, and to Professor J. S. P. Tatlock, also of the 
Stanford faculty, for his helpful and clarifying suggestions 
in the same connection. For the accuracy of the translations, 
as for their imperfections, the author alone is responsible. 

J. M. S. 
Stanford University, March IS, 1920. 

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THE period of the late Renaissance and the 
Protestant Reformation is from many points 
of view of great human interest. Many influences 
were active in bringing about a readaptation of the 
spirit of man to changing conditions, a readjust- 
ment all the more violent as the bonds of tradition 
and authority had so long held the minds of men 
in the fetters of accepted dogmas. In art, literature, 
philosophy, politics, theology, many strong and bold 
thinkers arose. Men were becoming aroused to a 
new consciousness of their powers. Reacting from 
the medieval mental slavery, the spirit of man be- 
came more independent and self-assertive. 

The domain of thought latest to share in this 
impetus was the field of natural science. After many 
hundreds of years since Greek and Roman science 
and art had been overthrown by. barbarian con- 
quests, during which period there existed compara- 
tive intellectual sterility and all learning was con- 
fined to the clerical orders and all independent 
thought had been jealously censored by the medieval 
Church, there had gradually developed both within 
and without the Church a restless movement toward 
question and criticism of accepted dogmas and au- 

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.2.-* '. •'•. PARACELSUS. 

• .••; ; ^-^ • ••• - / 

thorities. There arose an ambition to reinvestigate 
and to test by reason the basis of knowledge and of 
faith. Naturally the beginnings of this movement 
took place in those domains of thought most clearly 
related to the scholarly thought of the time — in 
theology and in speculative philosophy. So long, 
however, as this movement was limited to the cler- 
ical classes, and its expression was confined to the 
medium of manuscripts in scholastic Latin, no great 
popular participation could occur, and the authority 
of the Church could in great measure control any 
infections of thought considered dangerously in con- 
flict with accepted beliefs. 

Nevertheless, the tendency toward independent 
thought could not be extinguished. It found outlet 
at first in other directions, in the revival of interest 
in the art and literature of the ancients, in the burst- 
ing forth of new forms of art, in painting, sculpture, 
architecture and literature. 

Two great influences had arisen during the fif- 
teenth century to accelerate the intellectual awaken- 
ing of Europe, a remarkable development of the 
universities, both in number and scope of teaching, 
and the invention of printing by movable metal 

Many of the older universities had been founded 
in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries or even 
earlier. Among the more prominent of these were, 
in Italy, Naples, Salerno, Bologna, Padua, Pisa ; in 
Spain, Valladolid, Salamanca, Seville; in France, 
Paris, Montpellier, Toulouse; in England, Oxford 

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and Cambridge; in Bohemia, Prague; in Poland, 
Cracow; in Austria, Vienna; in Germany, Heidel- 
berg, -Cologne, Erfurt. 

In the fifteenth century there were founded a 
large number of universities, particularly in the Ger- 
man Empire, as Wiirzburg (1403), Leipsic (1409), 
Rostock (1419), Louvain ^(1426), Greifswald 
(1456), Liineburg (1471), Munich (1472), Ingol- 
stadt (1472), Mainz (1477), Tiibingen (1477), 
Budapest (1465), Upsala (1476), Copenhagen 
(1478). In France also several new universities 
were established, as Aix in Provence (1409), 
Poitiers (1431), Caen (1437), Bordeaux (1441) 
and others. In the earlier half of the sixteenth 
century were established, e.g., Wittenberg (1502), 
Breslau ( 1 505 ) , Frankf ort-on-the-Oder ( 1 506) , 
Marburg (1527), Konigsberg ( 1544), Jena ( i557). 

The development of the universities and the ex- 
tension of printing both served to bring to a larger 
constituency the ideas of representative thinkers of 
the time. 

Many other events were operative in breaking 
down the barriers of traditional conservatism. The 
discovery of America, and the exploitation of its 
wealth by Cortez and Pizarro, the discovery of the 
ocean route to India (1498), were opening new 
centers and currents of trade and commerce and 
new sources of wealth. The power of Spain was 
growing, the great German Empire losing coher- 
ency. The prestige of the Pope in temporal affairs 
was disputed. As the power of the emperor waned, 

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the influence of the German princes increased. The 
German cities were gaining, the feudal barons di- 
minishing, in authority, while the mercantile and 
middle classes were increasing in wealth and influ- 
ence. The printing and circulation of the Bible also 
occasioned more wide-spread criticism of current 
theological thought, ^and was largely influential in 
the development of schisms, which eventually re- 
sulted in the Protestant Reformation. 

Theophrastus von Hohenheim, or Paracelsus^ as 
he came to be generally called, was a true child of 
this period. He illustrates at once its independence, 
its self-confidence, its boldness of thought as well as 
its confusion of old and new tendencies, its depend- 
ence upon tradition and its struggle to free itself 
from that bondage. The lifetime of Paracelsus 
(1493-1541) fell in a period of the most fertile in- 
tellectual activity of the Renaissance. We may 
realize this if we recall that the span of his life 
touched the lifetimes of Michelangelo, Machiavelli, 
Leonardo da Vinci, Ariosto, Rafael, Columbus, 
Copernicus, Thomas More, Erasmus, Luther, Me- 
lanchthon, Rabelais, Vesalius, Cardanus, and others 
whom these names will suggest, and who have left 
a distinct impress upon the development of civiliza- 
tion. Paracelsus was born in the year following the 
discovery of America, an event which with its con- 

1 The name Paracelsus was adopted by Hohenheim in accordance 
with a common custom of writers of the time of using Latinized or 
Hellenized names. Thus Agricola (from Bauer), Melanchthon (from 
Schwarzerd), CEcolampadius (from Hausschein), — ^all German con- 
temporaries of Hohenheim. 

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sequences had much influence toward energizing the 
thoughts and stimulating the imagination of the 
generation that followed. 

Through nearly four centuries the name and 
fame of Paracelsus have come down to us with 
something of the legendary haze that characterizes 
the age of fables. It is quite generally recognized 
that he left a distinct impress upon the theory and 
practice of medicine, though there have existed great 
differences of opinion as to the extent of that influ- 
ence and whether, on the whole, it was beneficial or 
detrimental to the development of the science. It 
is admitted that he inaugurated a new era in chem- 
ical activity by diverting the attention of chemists, 
from the vain aims of medieval alchemy to the appli • 
cation of chemistry to use in medicine. It is recog- 
nized that he introduced some rational ideas into the 
practice of surgery. Pare, sometimes called the 
father of modern surgery, a younger contemporary 
of Paracelsus, is said to have acknowledged his in- 
debtedness to the earlier writer.^ Erdmann in his 
History of Philosophy credits him with having in- 
augurated the era of the modern development of the 
philosophy of nature. English readers know that 
his life and thought inspired the Paracelsus of Robert 
Browning. Books have been written to show that 
to Paracelsus we must look for the beginnings of 
homeopathy. Goethe scholars have attempted to 
find in the works of Paracelsus much of the inspira- 
tion and material of Faust, Modern mystics have 

2 Cf. Stoddart, The Life of Paracelsus, London. 1911, p. 65. 

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sought in him a fertile source of the revelation of 
the occult in nature, while students are not wanting 
who have found in his doctrines the earliest recog- 
nition of the necessary basis of modern scientific 
method. Writers, moreover, there have been who- 
have disputed all these claims. 

As with his work, so with his character and per- 
sonality. By many of his disciples and critics early 
or modern he has been extolled as a skilled physi- 
cian, a wise teacher, a great reformer, a sincere and 
pious and unselfish man. By many of his profes- 
sional opponents and by other critics he has, on the 
other hand, been characterized as an ignorant ego- 
tist, a charlatan, a drunken braggart, a superstitious 

Evidently not all of this can be true. Somewhere 
in this confusion of contradictory estimates must lie 
the true Paracelsus, for he was no mythical per- 
sonage and could have possessed no impossible com- 
bination of qualities. 

But whence come these antagonistic estimates, 
and why have opinions varied so extremely? What 
were his real accomplishments — what his true char- 
acter and personality? To attempt to summarize 
the answers which, in the past few decades, modern 
historical research has made to these questions is 
the task of this essay. 

There is, indeed, no great difficulty in under- 
standing how it came about that the German-Swiss 
physician became thus credited with contradictory 
attributes. It was his fortune or misfortune to have 

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become the originator of a school of medical prac- 
titioners, which came into influence mainly after his 
death and which for more than a century waged a 
bitter warfare with the older or Galenic school. Par- 
acelsists and anti-Paracelsists supported or con- 
demned the theory, practice, life and character of 
the acknowledged leader of the newer school. Fool- 
ish and credulous adherents and admirers credited 
and spread tales and legends of his wonderworking 
and miraculous powers. Equally foolish but hostile 
or malicious antagonists invented or credited other 
fables to the detriment of the character and life 
of the founder of the despised and hated schism. 
For in the medical profession of the sixteenth and 
seventeenth centuries it was not with the weapons 
of modern science — with patient and critical experi- 
mentation — that differences of opinion were settled, 
but they were settled with the traditional weapons 
borrowed from the theologians and philosophers of 
the time — dialectics, the citation of authorities — 
while ridicule, slander and abuse were effective ar- 
guments in the hands of disputants. 

From the thus accumulated mass of fable and 
exaggeration it is not easy to free the reputation of 
Paracelsus, to discover and justly estimate his real 
personality and influence. 

The sources of reliable information are of two 
kinds: such unbiased contemporary records of the 
life and work of Paracelsus as exist— and which 
are none too numerous — and the internal evidence 
of his own published writings. While his writings 

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as collected by his editors are of great volume, their 
character is such as to offer much difficulty in their 
interpretation. Some of them were published during 
his life and under his supervision. Some of them 
were published from manuscripts in his own hand- 
writing or by his amanuenses or secretaries, some 
edited from the lecture notes of his students, others 
were published from manuscripts of uncertain ori- 
gin, and still others were manifestly either wholly 
or in part spurious. Great differences of opinion 
exist among Paracelsus scholars as to the degree 
of authenticity and as to the criteria of authenticity 
of the writings attributed to Paracelsus. 

But few were printed during his lifetime, the 
greater part being published from twenty to seventy 
years after his death, and the original manuscripts 
of all his important works have disappeared. Jo- 
hannes Huser of Basel, who edited the most authori- 
tative collection of his works (1589-91), gathered 
together all available materials from public and pri- 
vate collections, and evidently carried out his labori- 
ous work with great fidelity and conscientiousness. 
He took pains to give the source of each of the books 
or articles included, and among them are many auto- 
graph manuscripts, and some also described as copies 
made from autograph copies known but not directly 
accessible to him. While it may be that Huser was 
at times deceived in the autograph character of a 
particular work, it is nevertheless true that upon his 
statements as to the source and probable authen- 
ticity of a particular writing we are at present mainly 

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dependent for the basis of our confidence in the 
authenticity of the works attributed to Paracelsus 
and included in his collected works. Huser indeed 
included many works in this collection of doubtful 
authenticity even when he expressed the belief or 
the knowledge that they were not genuine. 

There exists a letter by a certain Barthplomaus 
Schobinger (dated April, 1576) which bears inter- 
esting testimony to the fact that even at that time 
in his opinion some alleged writings of Paracelsus 
were not authentic. He states, ''Theophrastus, whom 
I knew very well, and who lived twenty-seven weeks 
in the house of my late brother-in-hw, left behind 
him many books upon such things, in part occult 
[verporgelich] and a part of which he truly did not 
himself understand. . . .There are also many books 
printed under his name which Theophrastus neither 
saw nor made. For I knew well the style of Theo- 
phrastus and his usage in writing.''^ 

No great value, to be sure, can be attached to 
this general and unsubstantiated assertion, but it is 
nevertheless interesting as supporting the judgment 
of Huser-as regards some alleged writings of Para- 

To the problem of separating myth from fact in 
the life history of Paracelsus, there h^as been brought 
to bear a large amount of serious and scholarly re- 
search, notably by German writers during the past 
thirty years. The motive for this reinvestigation 

3 Schubert and Sudhoff, Paracelsusforschungen, Frankfort-on-the- 
Main. 1887-89, II, pp. 140-44. 

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may be found in a revival of interest in the early 
history of scientific thought. For important contri- 
butions to the life story we are particularly indebted 
to the researches of Carl Aberle, Ed. Schubert and 
Carl Sudhoff, Raymund Netzhammer, R. Julius 
Hartmann, and Franz Strunz. For the partial so- 
lution of the problem of the authenticity of the works 
attributed to Paracelsus, we are chiefly indebted to 
the monumental critical bibliography of the printed 
books and manuscripts by Karl Sudhoff, the result 
of many years of exhaustive study of the collections 
accessible in the libraries of Europe. 

To the work of these scholars and to other stu- 
dents of the work of Paracelsus, and to authorities 
on the early history of medicine and other sciences 
during the past half century, we are indebted for 
a new and better understanding of the personality, 
accomplishments and influence of the original and 
eccentric Swiss physician and philosopher. 

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THEOPHRASTUS von Hohenheim, or Theo- 
phrastus Bombastus von Hohenheim, was born 
at Einsiedeln in Switzerland on the 17th of Decem- 
ber, 1493. In his time this region was part of the 
German Empire, so that he calls himself German as 
well as Swiss. His father, Wilhelm Bombast von 
Hohenheim, was at the time a practising physician 
in that village. A portrait of him bearing the date 
149 1 is in the Carolino-Augusteum Museum in Salz- 
burg. In Einsiedeln Wilhelm von Hohenheim had 
married an ^'honest person,'' a ''Gotteshausfrati des 
Gotteshauses unserer liebcn Frau zii Einsiedeln,'' 
and Theophrastus was so far as we know the only 
son and child of this union. At Einsiedeln was lo- 
cated a Benedictine monastery, and the town was 
then as now a place of pilgrimage. 

When Theophrastus was about nine years old 
his father removed to Villach in Carinthia, where 
he continued to reside for the remainder of his life, 
and where he died in 1534 a respected citizen and 
physician, as contemporary local records bear wit- 

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There was located at Villach a mining school 
founded by the Fuggers of Augsburg, and the re- 
gion was an important mining district. 

It is probable that Theophrastus received his 
first schooling, and the beginnings of his medical 
training from his father. Details as to his formal 
schooling, either preliminary or university, are lack- 
ing. Such information as we have is from occasional 
statements of his own and from allusions here and 
there in his writings to his experiences as a student. 
That his attention was early drawn to chemistry 
seems certain. It is quite probable that his father 
had some knowledge and interest in chemical pro- 
cesses as practised in the mining regions. 

In one of his surgical treatises, Paracelsus, re- 
ferring to his endeavors to eliminate the useless 
transmutation experiments of chemistry from the 
experiences useful to medicine, thus alludes to his 
preparation for that task: 

"From childhood up I have pursued these things 
and learned from good instructors who were most 
thoroughly grounded in the adepta philosophia and 
firmly grounded in the arts. First, from Wilhelmus 
von Hohenheim, my father, who has never forsaken 
me. Afterward and besides him a great number 
not necessary to enumerate, and many writings of 
ancients and moderns, as well, of various origins ; — 
some who have given themselves much trouble, as 
Bishop Scheyt of Stettgach, Bishop Erhart and 
his predecessors of Lavantall, Bishop Nicolaus of 
Yppon, Bishop Matthaus Schacht, suflfragan bishop 

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of Phrysingen. And many abbots, as of Sponheini' 
and others, and n>any among the doctors and their 
like. And I have also had great experience, and for 
a long time, with many alchemists who have investi- 
gated those arts, as namely with the noble Sigmund 
Fiiger of Schwatz and a number of his employed 

It appears that Paracelsus visited Fiiger's mines 
and laboratories at Schwatz in Tyrol when about 
twenty-two years of age and worked there for nearly 
a year, thus laying the foundation of the extensive 
knowledge he possessed of the usual chemical and 
metallurgical processes of the period and region. 

Whether or not the young Theophrastus had 
before this attended any of the German universities, 
and what progress he had made in medical studies 
is not known. Shortly after leaving the laboratory 
of Fiiger in Schwatz he embarked upon a career of 
travel covering a long series of experiences in many 
countries in the study and practice of his profession. 
Of this period again the only information we have 
is derived from the brief statements and allusions 
scattered through his writings. These have been 
examined and compared as to their consistency and 
in their relation to the local history and events of the 
time, by several scholars, last and notably by Dr. R. 
J. Hartmann, with the result that a consistent and 
probably fairly correct outline of his wanderings has 
been constructed. 

^ The eminent Trithemius, neo- Platonic philosopher and student 
of magic and the Cabbala. 

2 Chir, Bucher und Schriiften (1618), pp. lOlf. 

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It appears from this evidence that after leaving 
Schwatz and up to the time of his appearance as a 
practising physician in Strassburg in 1526, he had 
served in campaigns as army surgeon or physician 



The Devirs Bridge and the Paracelsus House will be discovered 
somewhat below the center. 

in Denmark and Sweden, that he had visited Eng- 
land, France, Belgium, and that, probably also as an 
army surgeon, he had participated in the wars in the 
service of Venice ( 1 52 1-25 ) . It will be remembered 

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that Swiss mercenaries were then largely used in 
the several wars taking place in different parts of 
Europe. At times during this period he appears 
also to have visited or attended various universities 
in Germany, France and Italy, and at some time or 
other received or assumed the title of Doctor. 

No positive evidence has been found that Para- 
celsus received the degree of Doctor of Medicine. 
His antagonists in the profession even during his 


It is in this house that, according to an old tradition, Paracelsus was 

born in 1493. 

lifetime disputed his title to it, a charge which he 
alludes to disdainfully but to which he makes no 
formal reply. On the other hand, the assumption 
of his having received the degree is supported by 
his use of it in his earliest writings and consistently 
afterward, by the presumption that he would not 
have been appointed as the city physician (Stadt- 
arzt) of Basel and professor in the University with- 
out having satisfied the authorities as to his technical 
qualifications. The records of his admission to the 

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Brussels. Hardly by Rubens himself, but by Jan Wildens, one of his 
pupils. The portrait is evidently a copy of an earlier one in the 
Louvre at Paris, at present supposed to have been painted by 
Scorel in 1517, but formerly attributed to Diirer. 

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rights of citizenship in Strassburg in 1526 describe 
him as "Doctor of Medicine." Such contemporary 
records as exist, official and unofficial, credit him 
with the title, but he nowhere mentions the univer- 
sity which conferred the degree, and the belief as to 
whether he received it at all or assumed it is largely 
influenced by the confidence of any particular critic 
in the truthfulness and sincerity of Paracelsus him- 

In later years his opponents made his wandering 
life a matter of reproach, and his reply furnishes 
us with one of the few extended autobiographical 
sketches contained in his writings : 

"It is necessary that I should answer in defense 
of my wayfaring — that I have remained nowhere 
long. How can I do that or overcome that which 
it is impossible for me to do or to overcome ? How 
can I add to or take away from that which is pre- 
destined ? . . . . The wanderings that I have thus far 
accomplished have proved of advantage to me, for 
the reason that no one's master grows in his own 
house nor his teacher behind the stove. Also all 
kinds of knowledge are not confined to the father- 
land but scattered throughout the whole world. They 
are not in one man nor in one place. They must 
be brought together, sought and found where they 
exist. The stars bear witness that their inclina- 
tions are scattered wide and not for each one in 
his own village, but according to the nature of 
the higher spheres, the radii pass to their goals. 
Is it not proper for me to seek out these goals and 

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to find out the effects in each? If I should fail in 
this regard I should not worthily be the Theophras- 
tus that I am. Is it not true that knowledge pursues 
no one but that it must be sought? Therefore I 
have right and reason — that I should go to seek it, 
and not it me ... . Thus, if any one wishes to see a 
person or a city, to learn their manners and customs, 
of their constellations and the nature of their ele- 
ments he must pursue them .... How can a good 
cosmographer or geographer develop behind the 
stove? Does not seeing with the eyes give a true 
foundation ? .... I have heard repeatedly from those 
experienced in the laws that it is written in the laws 
that a physician must be a traveler. This pleases 
me very well for the reason that diseases wander 
hither and thither as wide as the world is, and do 
not remain in one place. If one will know many 
diseases he must wander also. If he travels far he 
experiences much and learns to know much .... 
Does not travel give more knowledge than sitting 
behind the stove ? . . . . Not merely to describe coun- 
tries as to how they wear their trousers, but cour- 
ageously to attack the problem as to what kinds of 
diseases they possess .... For the arts have no feet 
so that the butcher can drive them to you, they are 
not brought in on cushions nor enclosed in casks. 
Since that is their nature you must pursue them, as 
they cannot come to you. The English humors 
[humor es] are not the Hungarian, nor the Neapoli- 
tan, the Prussian ; therefore you must go where they 
are, and the more you seek them, and the more you 

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Qua v^tut SeLu:ta eiartt Ertimu Kmmo. 
Sie ocuIm t/tc era, tda.cJtm pluttm^ ia^^mm 
Duundi f/htdio ptrlocajtett tUr 

J4 TuUiret oB Pumm ptHeut 



ffftftU ftlAT 

f CKamtmm JaJfui. 

'.lUi^tpUmtru iaetjMmt 


Engraved by F. Chauveau. May be by an artist of about 1520-25, when 

Paracelsus was in the Venetian wars. Tintoretto was born 1518.* 

♦For data concerning portraits we are chiefly indebted to the 
scholarly researches of Dr. Karl Aberle, Grabdenkmal, Schddel und 
Abbildungen des Theophrastus Paracelsus, Salzburg, 1887-91. 

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experience, the greater will be your understanding 
in your own fatherland. Also it is necessary that 
the physician be a chemist [Alchymist]. If now he 
wishes to be such, he must seek out the matrices in 
which the minerals grow. But the mountains will 
not come to him, he must go to them. Where the 
minerals are there are also the experts who know 
them .... I pass over other things that he who 
wanders hither and thither gains in knowledge of 
many peoples — experience of all kinds of habits and 
customs, to see which, one should be willing to wear 
out his shoes and hat. Does not a lover go a long 
way to see a pretty woman? How much better to 
pursue a beautiful art! If, then, there exists such 
a ne.ed [to travel] how can one be condemned and 
despised for so doing? It is indeed true that those 
who do not roam have greater possessions than 
those who do ; those who sit behind the stove eat 
partridges, and those that follow after knowledge 
eat milk-broth. Those who hug the fireplace [ Win- 
kelbldser] wear silks and golden chains, those who 
wander are scarce able to pay for their homespun; 
those within the town-walls have it cold or warm as 
they wish, those in the arts — if there were no 
trees — would have no shade. He who will serve 
the belly — he will not follow after me, he will follow 
those who go about in fine clothing. Yet travel is 
not for such as these, for Juvenal has said he alone 
wanders joyfully who has nothing. Therefore let 
them conform to that saying^^that they may not be 
murdered let them stay behind the stove and turn 

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pears before the fire. Therefore I consider that it 
is for me a matter of praise, not of blame, that I 
have hitherto and worthily pursued my wanderings. 
For this will I bear witness respecting nature: he 
who will investigate her ways must travel her books 
with his feet. That which is written is investigated 
through its letters, but nature from land to land — 
as often a land so often a leaf. Thus is the Codex 
of Nature, thus must its leaves be turned.''^ 

In the year 1526, at about the age of thirty, 


Paracelsus is again found in Germany. It appears 
that he soon attracted attention as an original and 
skilful physician, though the conventionally trained 
physicians viewed him with suspicion and hostility. 
"I pleased no one but the sick whom I cured,'' is his 
own statement of the situation. 

The official records of Strassburg show that in 
1526 "Theophrastus von Hohenheim, Doctor of 
Medicine, has purchased the citizenship [Burgrecht] 
and serves with the Luzerne. Enacted Wednesday 

3 Op, fol, I, 257ff. 

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after Andreas Apostate [Dec. 5th]." The guild of 
Luzerne was that of the grain-dealers and millers 
to which also the surgeons belonged.^ 

Before entering, however, upon his duties and 
privileges at Strassburg, he received the offer of 
the position of Stadtarzt or city physician at Basel, 
a position which carried with it the functions of a 
professorship in medicine at the University. In the 
Preface to his manuscript De gradibus, dated No- 
vember, 1526, he signs himself "Physicus et Ordi- 
narius Basiliensis,'' that is to say, Physician and 
Professor at Basel. 

The story of his appointment at Basel is inter- 
esting. The distinguished book-publisher of Basel, 
Johann Froben (Frobenius) was suffering from a 
painful illness which defied the efforts of the phy- 
sicians. Hearing of the remarkable skill of the new 
physician, he sent to him at Strassburg to come to 
Basel, and through his ministrations found speedy 
relief. Froben's house in Basel was frequented by 
a number of scholarly persons, notably by Erasmus 
who at that time lived in Froben's house and by 
(Ecolampadius, then professor of theology in the 
University of Basel, both prominent in the reforma- 
tion movement in Switzerland. Impressed by the 
personality and medical skill of the new physician, 
these men — and particularly, it is said, Qicolampa- 
dius — prevailed on the city authorities (Stadtrath) 
to offer the then vacant position of city physician to 
Paracelsus, an offer which was at once accepted. 

* Ci. Schubert and Sudhoff, Paracelsusforschungen, II, p. 3. 

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We have evidence of the good impression made 
by Paracelsus on Froben and his friends in a letter 
of Erasmus written to Paracelsus some time later — 
probably during the summer of 1526. The letter of 
Erasmus is in reply to a letter of the physician in 
which he has given directions and prescriptions for 
certain ailments of Erasmus, and though the general 
tone of the letter of Erasmus is expressive of some 
dissatisfaction as to the indefiniteness of his direc- 
tions it concludes, ''I cannot offer thee a reward 
equal to thy art and knowledge — I surely offer thee 



reading: "Theophrastus Bombast ex Hohenheim D." Cf. Schubert 

and Sudhoff, op. cit., II, p. 73. 

a grateful soul. Thou hast recalled from the shades 
[ab infer is] Frobenius who is my other half : if thou 
restorest me also thou restorest each through the 
other [titrumque in singulis]. May fortune favor 
that thou remain in Basel." 

Paracelsus evidently entered upon his important 
position as city physician and university teacher 
with zeal and energy. He had returned from his 
extensive experience in foreign lands and his con- 
tact with different notions of the practice and theory 
of medicine with distinctly radical ideas. He doubt- 
less hailed with enthusiasm and much self-assurance 

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this opportunity to propagate his ideas as to the re- 
form of medical theory and practice. That Para- 
celsus overestimated at the time his ability to in- 
fluence the ultraconservative, traditional, dogmatic 
medicine of his time, and that he greatly under- 
estimated the strength of the forces whose antagon- 
ism he challenged is also certain. 

His experience at Basel soon forced him to real- 
ize that the victory of his ideas was distant, and 
though he never ceased his efforts, the bitterness 
of his disappointments and resentments against the 
persecutions and abuse of his opponents gave color 
and character to his later life. 

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THAT we may be able to comprehend the nature 
of the conflict between the theories of Paracel- 
sus and the traditional dogmatic philosophy which 
he opposed, it is essential that we attempt to under- 
stand something of the current thought in the do- 
mains in which Paracelsus endeavored to impress 
his reformatory ideas. 

His great aim was to break the bonds of ancient 
authority and accepted dogma which had for cen- 
turies held medical science enchained, and to open 
the way for the foundation of that science upon a 
basis of open-minded experience, experiment and 
observation, or, as he expresses it, on the "Light of 

But "nature" to the view of the school of philos- 
ophy which Paracelsus adopted comprehended much 
that to our- modern view is occult or supernatural. 
It comprised the influence of the stars upon the life 
and health of men and many other mysterious phe- 
nomena then generally credited by all classes of 
people. The knowledge of nature was to be achieved 
not merely, therefore, by the eyes and the hands — 
by experiment and observation as we understand 

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the study of nature — but also by a more mystical 
insight into the hidden properties of things. 

For Paracelsus the phenomena of nature, seen or 
hidden, are the revelation of God's will to man in 
all those things relating to his physical and material 
welfare — just as the teachings of Christ are for him 
the revelation of God's will to man in things spir- 
itual. Hence the physician as the highest human 
agent of God's will to man, must be thoroughly 
grounded in the complete knowledge of nature, and 
as thoroughly in obedience to the teachings of Christ. 
For the interpretation of the phenomena of nature as 
for the interpretation of the teachings of Christ, he 
claims the right for himself and for his individual 
judgment, and refuses to accept the authority of 
ancient Greek philosophers or physicians — or of 
Church-Fathers or other sources of dogmatic the- 

The study of nature and its phenomena was, it 
may be remembered, the latest field to feel the Re- 
naissance impulse, and it was in the sixteenth cen- 
tury still largely dominated by the medieval point of 

'To the Middle Ages and its scholastic science/' 
says Windelband,^ ''nature was a closed book upon 
which the Church had placed its seal. Nature was 
the profane, the wicked; it was hated, combated, 
despised, oppressed, anathematized, anything but 
known, investigated or understood. And in the 
natural recoil there took possession of the spirit 

1 Geschichte der neueren Philosophie, Leipsic, 1907, I, p. 42. 

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awakening to freedom, conscious of its power, a 
longing for nature, for a natural form of life, for a 
knowledge and command of the forces of nature. 

"But nature was a myfstery. She seemed to wish 
to be revealed through a mysterious knowledge. It 
was felt that living nature was not to be approached 
through the scholastic concepts of science, its dem- 
onstrations and determinations, and before a new 
method \yas arrived at, it was believed that nature 
was to be approached through some peculiar reve- 
lation, by a mystical secret doctrine, and thus the 
struggle toward the knowledge of nature took at 
first a fantastic direction.'' 

Or as Cassirer^ summarizes the natural philos- 
ophy of the Renaissance, "Through the dense veil 
with which fantasy and superstition surround them, 
there nevertheless emerge the outlines and forms 
of a new view of the eternal reality. The intel- 
lectual labor of the time leads but rarely to sure 
and fruitful results with which later science can 
connect, but it nevertheless anticipates, in symbolic 
form and language, general processes of thought 
which are to be repeated in the upbuilding of sci- 

These characterizations apply well to the con- 
cepts of nature and natural phenomena in the time 
of Paracelsus and as found in his own writings. 

Among the conventional scholars of the time 
the prevailing natural philosophy was a degenerate 

2 Das Erkenntnisproblem in der Philosophic und Wissenschaft det 
neueren Zeit (2d ed.), Berlin, 1911, I, p. 205. 

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Aristotelianism, which had been transmitted, modi- 
fied and obscured by Arabian interpreters and 
through Oriental influences corrupted by much 
more of mysticism than existed in the original Greek 
sources: During the Renaissance there had devel- 
oped a revival of the neo-Platonic philosophy. The 
generally credited originator of this revival is Nicho- 
las of Cusa ( 1401-1464), but its chief propagandists 
were in the Florentine Academy — ^notably Giovanni 
Pico della Mirandola (1463-94) and Marsilius Fici- 
nus (1433-99). Through the latter this somewhat 
fantastic natural philosophy had spread to Germany, 
where Reuchlin (1455-1522), Trithemius (1462- 
1 5 16), Cornelius Agrippa von Nettesheim (1486- 
1535) were prominent exponents, while in France 
Bovillus (1476-1553) was a prominent representa- 

Of these men Trithemius has previously been 
named in a quotation from Paracelsus as among his 
teachers. Ficinus and Agrippa are also mentioned 
by him as authors with whose works he is familiar. 
Agrippa's lifetime, it will be observed, is contempo- 
raneous with Paracelsus's — in fact, he was but a few 
years older. It may be safely assumed that to one 
or more of this school Paracelsus was indebted for 
the fundamental notions of his philosophy of nature 
— whether directly to Ficinus and Lullus, as Pro- 
fessor Sigwart^ thinks, or to Agrippa, as Alfred 
Lehmann* believes, is at present difficult to decide. 

8 Chr. Sigwart, Kleine Schriften, 2d ed., Freiburg, 1889, I, p. 42. 
* A. Lehmann, Aberglaube und Zauberei, etc., 2d ed., Stuttgart, 1908. 

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Lehmann calls attention to the fact that Pico della 
Mirandola wrote his Conclusiones cabbalisticae in 
i486 and that a pupil of his [Ficinus?] initiated 
Trithemius into the Cabbala. Trithemius was a 
friend of Reuchliti who was a profound student of 
Hebrew and of the Cabbala. From Reuchlin 
Agrippa probably received the foundations of the 
theory and he also was a friend of Trithemius. 

As Paracelsus mentions both Ficinus and 
Agrippa, and acknowledges Trithemius as his 
teacher, we may well believe that he drew from all 
these sources in the construction of his own theories. 
Though the natural philosophy of Paracelsus was 
deeply rooted in the neo-Platonic philosophy of the 
Florentine Academy, yet Paracelsus was too original 
and venturesome a thinker to be a strict adherent 
of any particular form of philosophy. It probably 
especially appealed to him because it was in the na- 
ture of a revolt from the dry and lifeless Aristo- 
telianism of the day, and because it opened the path 
to the recognition of the value of experiment and 
observation as the basis for the development of med- 

Fantastic as the neo-Platonic philosophy of that 
time seems to our present views, there was much in 
it to appeal to the popular notions of the fifteenth 
and sixteenth centuries. The attempt to unite into 
a quasi natural philosophy the many mysterious 
phenomena of nature as they presented themselves 
to the belief of that time — the supernatural phenom- 
ena as well as many equally mysterious natural phe- 

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nomena — was inspiring to the imagination. The 
"natural magic" of Agrippa and the philosophy of 
Paracelsus attempted to give rational explanations 
of many things which the orthodox philosophy of 
the period accounted for only in a purely mystical 

A fundamental concept of this neo-Ptatonic phi- 
losophy -was the interrelation of all the phenomena 
of the universe, such that eyery phenomenon has an 
influence upon every other. As the earth was con- 
sidered the center of the material universe, so man 
was considered in a higher sense the center and the 
epitome of the external universe. Man is the micro- 
cosm, the external universe the macrocosm. Through 
their spirits or occult properties all things in the 
universe, sun and moon and stars, plants and ani- 
mals, metals and waters, may exert definite influ- 
ences upon man, his mental and physical states. So, 
too, it is not impossible that man through knowledge 
of these occult or hidden properties of things may 
be able to influence the powers of nature in mar- 
velous ways. Or, as says Cassirer^ in discussing the 
philosophy of the French neo-Platonist Bovillus, the 
investigation of the macrocosm is to enable us to 
obtain clearer views of what takes place in the micro- 
cosm — "In fantastic analogies the comparison of the 
universe with human life is developed and inter- 

Lehmann^ has given us a synopsis of the natural 
magic of Agrippa, and the resemblance to much of 

« op. cit, I, p. 63 « op. cit., pp. 195-202. 

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Paracelsus's theories is striking. Agrippa attributes 
to all objects in the universe sympathies and antipa- 
thies, and believes that by influencing these sympa- 
thies and antipathies by appropriate methods ex- 
traordinary or supernatural results might be ob- 
tained. "This natural magic/' says Lehmann, "first 
attained great importance when its fundamental 
ideas with certain changes were adopted as an es- ^ 
sential element in the medical system of Paracelsus." 
Agrippa says, "The world is threefold, namely, ele- 
mentary, sidereal, spiritual. Everything lower is 
ruled by the higher and receives thence its power. 
Thus the Architect and Prototype of the universe 
lets the powers of His omnipotence flow out through 
the angels, the heavens, the stars, the elements, the 
animals, plants, rocks, and thence into man." And 
thus, thinks Agrippa, it becomes possible for man 
through the powers of nature to reascend the ladder 
and to gain supernatural powers and knowledge. 
This natural magic is to him the greatest of the 
sciences. It comprises: Physics, or the knowledge 
of the nature of things which are in the universe — 
their causes, actions, times, places, appearances, as 
a whole and in its parts ; Mathematics, which teaches 
us to know nature in three dimensions and to ob- 
serve the paths of the heavenly bodies; Theology. 
which teaches us of God, the soul, intelligences, 
angels, devils and religion; it teaches us also the 
sacred observances, forms and mysteries ; and finally 
it informs us concerning the faith and the miracles, 
the powers of words and symbols and the sacred 

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Operations and mysteries of the seals. These three 
sciences the natural magic brings together and per- 
fects. He who does not know these three sciences 
cannot understand the rationality of magic. 

Agrippa supposes all substances to be compQsed 
of the four Aristotelian elements, Fire, Earth, 
Water and Air. Everything is composed of these, 
not by a simple heaping together but by combination 
and metamorphosis, and everything falls back, when 
it perishes, into the elements. None of these ele- 
ments occurs pure in nature, but they are more or 
less mixed and may be confused with one another. 
Each of the four elements has two special qualities 
of which one is the characteristic quality, the other 
forms the transition to another element. This is 
represented by a diagram illustrating the four quali- 
ties and the four elements in their relation to one 
another — in the Aristotelian fashion: 

hot — Fire — dry 

A ir 1 Earth 

moist — Water — cold 

According to Agrippa also, all things of higher 
nature or sphere in the three divisions or worlds of 
the universe, influence the lower, but the lower also 
influence the higher, though in less degree. Also 
all things in the same sphere influence one another 
in that everything attracts and is attracted by its 

The philosophy of Paracelsus presents distinct 
resemblances to that of Agrippa. The form of the 

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neo-Platonic philosophy presented by Agrippa may 
well have served as his starting-point, but the dif- 
ferences are also important. Paracelsus was mani- 
festly quite in agreement with Agrippa as to the 
three divisions of the universe and their mutual in- 
fluences upon one another. The concepts of man as 
the microcosm, and the outer universe as the mac- 
rocosm, and that by the study of the macrocosm the 
knowledge of the microcosm must be reached, were 
with Paracelsus as with Agrippa and also with his 
contemporary Bovillus, dominant ideas. 

Instead, however, of the three sciences of Agrip- 
pa, Physics (meaning natural philosophy), Mathe- 
matics (including magic numbers — the Cabbala) 
and Theology, upon which is founded the Science of 
Natural Magic, Paracelsus substitutes Philosophy 
(meaning also natural philosophy). Astronomy, 
Alchemy (meaning chemistry) and Virtue (or 
righteousness), which he constitutes the four pillars 
upon which the Science of Medicine must rest. 
"Virtue'' as a separate science differs from the 
"Theology" of Agrippa mainly in the rejection by 
Paracelsus of the many forms, ceremonies and mir- 
acles upon which Agrippa places emphasis. . 

Paracelsus rejects the four Aristotelian elements 
as the determining constituent principles of all 
bodies and substitutes for them his three alchemical 
elements, Mercury, the principle of liquidity and 
volatility, Sulphux, the principle of combustibility, 
and Salt, that principle which is permanent and re- 
sists the action of fire. 

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The philosophy of nature as presented by Para- 
celsus differed even more in the emphasis and the 
application of the fundamental ideas than in the 
formal philosophical notions. For Paracelsus was 
not a closet philosopher. His reasoning was often 
loose and careless. He was, it would seem, not so 
much interested in elaborating a natural philosophy 
for its own sake as in utilizing the neo-Platonic 
system in which he had been more or less schooled 
as a substitute for the Aristotelian and Galenic phi- 
losophy which to his mind stood in the way of the 
rational development of the science of medicine on the 
basis of the study of nature. His adaptation of the 
current neo-Platonic theories was not so much a 
carefully thought-out and consistent philosophy as 
it was an imaginative adaptation of such elements 
of it as could fit into the system of things as he saw 
them, and he introduced such modifications and ex- 
tensions as harmonized with his medical, chemical 
and theological ideas — ideas which he had arrived 
at not only through the conventional channels of the 
schools, for which sources indeed he felt but little 
respect, but also through his contact with a wider 
school of observation and experience among all 
classes of people and in many lands. 

Thus his system of philosophy, less consistent 
and less logically developed than the philosophy 
presented by Ficinus, Bovillus, or even by Agrippa, 
nevertheless, because it had application to the prac- 
tical profession of medicine and chemistry, was of 
more direct influence on the common thought of the 

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time. As a recent writer has expressed it/ "Para- 
celsus arrived at his mystical system long before 
Copernicus appeared. The great impulse that pro- 
ceeded from the latter and produced a cosmological 
thinking and view-point had not reached him. Never- 
theless, he as metaphysician was the first who saw the 
world as in motion. Nearly a century after him [sic] 
arose Giordano Bruno. Cardan also was younger 
than Paracelsus. The only influence which could have 
reached him from outside, apart from the medieval 
influence of Meister Eckehart, was that of the re- 
vivified, neo-Platonism, that fashionable philosophy 
of the late Renaissance. But that was only a cold 
transparent metaphysics of ideas, which must have 
hindered rather than have furthered the develop- 
ment of a metaphysics of nature, so warm, so full of 
life and actuality as was that which Paracelsus has 
given us. For this was remarkable — that his mysti- 
cism was always a mysticism of actuality — that his 
cosmos always remained nature.''. 

Or to quote from the eminent historian of phi- 
losophy J. H. Erdmann:^ "Although the doctrine 
of the Macrocosm and Microcosm was of primitive 
antiquity and had even lately been emphasized by 
Raymond of Sabunde, who had not remained un- 
known tb Paracelsus, yet it is only since and by 
means of the latter that it was made the central 
point of the whole of philosophy. He designates 

7 Moeller van den Bruck, Die Deutschen, Minden i. W., n. d. (1904), 
III, p. 74. 

^History of Philosophy (trans, by W. S. Hough), London, 1893, 
I, p. 613. 

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nature as the sphere of philosophy and hence ex- 
cludes from the latter all theology. Not as though 
the two were antagonistic, or as though theology 
were subordinated to philosophy, but the works of 
God are either works of nature or works of Christ : 
the former are comprehended by philosophy, the 
latter by theology." 

While it is foreign to the purpose of this treat- 
ment to describe in great detail the natural philos- 
ophy of Paracelsus, a brief summary of some of the 
more characteristic features will serve to enable us 
better to understand the influence and significance 
they possessed for the time in which he wrote. 

Paracelsus divides the external universe or mac- 
rocosm into three worlds, the visible and tangible; 
the astral (or sidereal), the world of the heavenly 
bodies ; and the celestial, or the divine and spiritual. 
Similarly he sees in man, the microcosm, three cor- 
responding spheres, , the visible and tangible, that 
is, the fluids, organs, bones, etc. ; the astral, the sen- 
sations, seeing, feeling, perception ; the celestial, the 
soul (Seele), The sciences which treat of these 
three divisions of the macrocosm, are philosophy, 
the science of the phenomena of nature ; astronomy 
(and astrology) ; and theology or virtue (proprie- 
tas). As, however, the microcosm is to be under- 
stood, and interpreted through the macrocosm, he 
who would know what takes place in man, and what 
aflFects his life, health, and well-being must be thor- 
oughly grounded in these three sciences. To these 
Paracelsus adds alchemy, which term, however, he 

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uses in the sense of chemistry rather than in the 
mystical sense which at present we attribute to the 
word alchemy. He adds chemistry as the fourth 
pillar of medicine, as* he considers that all sub- 
stances, even the four Aristotelian elements, are 
made up of the three chemical principles Mercury, 
Sulphur and Salt, and the processes in nature which 
effect changes in the forms of matter are similar in 
character to the changes which may be produced in 
the laboratory of the chemist. Nature is herself an 
alchemist. So he says :® 

"Now further as to the third foundation on 
which medicine stands, which is alchemy. When 
the physician is not skilled and experienced to the 
highest and greatest degree in this foundation, all 
his art is in vain. For nature is so subtle and so 
keen in her matters that she will not be used without 
great art. . For she yields nothing that is perfected, 
in its natural state, but man must perfect it. This 
perfecting is called alchemy. For the baker is an 
alchemist when he bakes bread, the vine-grower 
when he makes wine, the weaver when he makes 
cloth. Therefore whatever grows in nature useful 
to man — whoever brings it to the point to which it 
was ordered by nature, he is an alchemist." 

When Paracelsus speaks of philosophy as the 
knowledge of nature — ''As now the physician must 
develop from nature — what is nature other than 
philosophy? — what is philosophy other than invis- 
ible nature ?"^^ — it should be kept in mind that to his 

» op. fol, I, 219, "Paragranum." ^^ Ibid., I, 205. 

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mind as to his contemporaries generally, the phe- 
nomena of nature included a great number of sup- 
posed facts which the knowledge of our day rele- 
gates to the domain of fable and superstition. The 
influences of the stars, of angels and devils, spirits 
of the air or the waters, gnomes and nymphs were 
generally credited in his time. The neo-Platonic 
view of the universe which Paracelsus represented 
encouraged the belief in such existences by its as- 
sumption of the influences exerted by all things 
upon one another and upon man through the sym- 
pathies and antipathies of their spirits (Geister). 
The belief in the influence of the stars was well-nigh 
universal, and "astronomy'' comprehended "astrol- 
ogy." The customary interpretation of the nature 
of the influence of the heavenly bodies upon man's 
health was purely mystical. Troels-Lund'' quotes 
from H. Ranzau (1676), a post-Paracelsan writer, 
the following discussion which may be accepted as 
fairly representing the conventional and purely mys- 
tical view of the matter : 

"The first cause of disease is the fall of the first 
man with which came sin and death into the world. 
The second cause is the influence of the stars. God 
created these not only that we may be able to meas- 
ure the years, months and days, but also that they 
should be a sign to us from which we may draw 
conclusions as to the future. For the inferior world 
is dependent upon the superior. The heavenly bod- 

11 Gesundheit und Krankheit in der Anschauung alter Zeiten, Leip- 
sic, 1901, p. 80 

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ies exercise a certain mysterious action and influ- 
ence upon the lower conditions whereby the fluids 
[Sdfte] of the body are modified, augmented or 
diminished, according to the position and character . 
of the stars. Daily experience, in all things the 
surest teacher, shows this so plainly and clearly that 
no further proof is needed. If any one lacks con- 
fidence in this let him but observe the influence of 
the moon and he will be convinced. For with a 
crescent moon the fluids of the body increase also — 
the blood, the brain — the marrow — in man and in 
animals. The fluids of our bodies are therefore 
ruled by the heavenly bodies, but from bad fluids 
arise diseases and from diseases — death.'' 

Even before Paracelsus there were symptoms 
of a tendency to discredit the mystical notions of the 
influence of the stars. Thus Giovanni Pico della 
Mirandola, who died the year following Paracelsus's 
birth, says: 

"The stars can only indicate and predict what 
they themselves cause. Their real and natural signs 
belong to the material world and are subject to its 
laws. They are either the causes or the eflfects of 
the happenings which they indicate or predict. The 
heavenly bodies possess no occult qualities by whose 
power they are able to produce secret influences on 
earth. Not in the heavens but in himself must each 
read the foundations of his destiny. A great thinker 
such as Aristotle is indebted for his capacities and 
accomplishments not to the stars under which he 

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was born, but to his own genius which he received 
from God." 

So Paracelsus says: ''Adam and Eve received 
. their bodies at the creation and through the principle 
of the seed up to the passing away of the world. 
And though no star or planet had existed nor yet 
were, children would be just so born, complexioned 
and natured as they now are — one melancholic, an- 
other choleric, one true, another untrue, one pious, 
another wicked. Such qualities are in the entity of 
their natures and do not come from the stars, for 
they have no part in the body, that is, they give no 
complexion, no colors, no form, no characteristic 
traits, no nature, no individuality."^^ 

'The course of Saturn disturbs no man in his 
life, neither lengthens nor shortens it. For if Saturn 
had never been in the heavens nor in the firmament, 
people would be born just so, and though no moon 
had been created still would people have just such 
natures. You must not believe that because Mars 
is cruel, therefore Nero was his child. Although 
they had the same nature neither obtained it from 
the other. You see Helen and Venus of one nature, 
and though Venus had never existed still would 
Helen have been a strumpet, and although Venus is 
older than Helen consider that before Helen there 
were also strumpets. 

"A seed that is thrown into the earth yields its 
fruit of itself, for it has the principle of the seed ' 
[ens seminis] within it, but if the sun were not, it 

12 Op. foL, I, 5, "Paramirum." 

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would not grow. Think not that the sun makes it, 
nor the firmament nor such things, but mark that 
the warmth of the sun sets it its time. . . . A child 
may not grow without its digestion [gestation] for 
it grows in the digestion, that is to say, in the mother, 
and therefore the child needs no stars nor planets, its 
mother is its planet and its star. The seed must have 
digestion and that takes place in the earth. The earth, 
however, affords no digestion without the sun, but 
the mother is a digestion without any stars .... ''^' 

"But understand also the virtue of the stars. The 
stars have their nature and their manifold proper- 
ties, just as on earth men have. The ^tars have also 
their changes, sometimes better, sometimes worse, 
sweeter or sourer, milder or bitterer. When they 
are good nothing evil comes from them, but when 
they are evil, evil comes from them. Take note that 
they surround the earth as the shell an egg : the air 
comes through the shell and passes first. through 
them toward the center of the world. Therefore 
note now that those stars which are poisonous — 
they contaminate the air with their poison. There- 
fore when these poisons come to any place such dis- 
eases appear there as have the properties of those 
stars. It may not poison the whole earth but only 
that part where its influence is strongest. And so 
also it is with the good influences of the stars.''^* 

This is an illustration of a very characteristic 
habit of Paracelsus, of explaining generally accepted 
beliefs of his time by some plausibly rational theory. 
»3/Mrf., I. 6. i*/Wrf., I, 7. 

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In his time when the Ptolemaic cosmology prevailed, 
the earth was the center — about which sun, moon 
and planets revolved, and the atmosphere was com- 
monly supposed to extend to and to support them in 
their places. To the thought of our time strange 
and fantastic — ^yet to his own time there was nothing 
absurd in this imaginative hypothesis to account for 
such influences upon health and diseases as Para- 
celsus with others credited to the heavenly bodies. 

The following passage is, however, less consis- 
tent with the foregoing quotations, and more in ac- 
cord with the philosophy of Agrippa. Says Para- 
celsus :" 

"Therefore know that the wise man can rule and 
master the stars, and not the stars him. The stars 
are subject to him and and must follow him and 
not he them. A brutish man is ruled, mastered, 
compelled and necessitated by the stars, so that he 
has to follow them like the thief to the gallows, the 
murderer to the wheel.'' 

The study of all nature was essential to the phy- 
sician according to the view of Paracelsus — ^because 
only through a complete understanding of external 
nature (the macrocosm) could the physician com- 
pletely understand the influences affecting man ,(the 
microcosm ) . To quote : ^® 

"The heaven is its own physician as is a dog of 
its wounds, but man has his shortcomings in such 
things. For as he is more than a mortal creature, 

15 op. fol., I, 910, "De natura rerum." 
i« Op. fol, I, 216, "Paragranum." 

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he must have more knowledge. He must know what 
is in the heavens and what in the earth, what in the 
air, and what in the water. Why is this so? In 
order that he may know who he is and from what 
he is. If this knowledge were not necessary man 
would not be sick. But that man may know that, 
no matter what and who he is, he must recognize in 
his father [the macrocosm] diseases and health, 
and must see that this member Mars has made, this 
member, Venus, and this, Luna; this is from the 
Chaos [air] ; in this place hast thou thy flesh and 
blood from the element water, there from earth. 
These diseases of men and of their health exist only 
for this that man may know the beasts of the forest 
and the field, and that he may see that he is like the 
beasts and not better. Therefore must man observe 
himself and gain experience of all created things 
that he may know himself.'' 

The fourth pillar of medicine, virtue (proprie- 
tas), resolves itself in the hands of Paracelsus into 
a recognition of and obedience to the will of God 
and to his direction of the universe through the 
powers of nature and the teachings of Christ. Quite 
generally the subject is treated with direct applica- 
tion to the mission of the physician as the agent of 
God's will for the health of man through his under- 
standing of the forces of nature, and to the duties 
of the medical profession toward the poor and the 
sick and their obligation to prepare themselves for 
their profession by studying their science in "the 
Light of Nature." 

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AS the main interest of Paracelsus lay in medicine, 
iVand as he rejected the ancient authorities on 
the theory and practice of medicine, it was of first 
importance to his mission that he should formulate 
a theory of medicine that should harmonize with 
his philosophy of nature and the results of his ex- 
perience and observation. Naturally also his med- 
ical theory is closely related to his natural philos- 

The history of medical science gives ample evi- 
dence of a great need of radical reform both in 
theory and practice at the period of the activity of 

The accepted body of medical doctrines as au- 
thorized by the medical faculties and taught in the 
universities was founded upon the ancient authori- 
ties of Hippocrates and Galen and their Arabian 
interpreters, and particularly of the latter. The 
Greek physician Galen had indeed accomplished 
much in his time to advance the practice of medicine, 
and had even performed dissections, not indeed on 
the human subject, but upon animal bodies. But to 
the physicians of the time of Paracelsus the ancient 
texts of Galen were almost unknown in their purity. 

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but were read only as transmitted, commentated and 
interpolated by Arabian interpreters, Avicenna, 
Averrhoes, Mesne and others. The Galenism of the 
sixteenth century was a corrupted Galenism over- 
laid with Oriental occultism and mysticism. More- 
over, the medieval spirit still ruled in the profession. 
The teachings of the Arabian-Greek authorities had 
been for centuries and were still held as infallible 
dogmas. The doctrines of medical science were a 
finished book, just as the authorities of the Church 
were final — they might be commentated, expounded, 
interpreted and taught, but not contradicted nor 
seriously questioned. No experiments were encour- 
aged, no doctrines or opinions tolerated that might 
be in evident contradiction to these sacred authori- 
ties. Though new diseases had arisen to puzzle the 
profession, no new unauthorized measures could be 
attempted to meet them. Naturally enough, while 
such a condition prevailed the medical profession 
was bound to degenerate into a self-satisfied caste. 
Naturally also ignorance and incapacity, fostered by 
the lifeless teaching of the conventional dogmas, 
theories and the stereotyped system of symptoms 
and remedies, often gave rise to pretentiousness and 
hypocrisy. It followed also that in the Renaissance, 
when men were thinking many new thoughts, there 
should have arisen a suspicion as to the sufficiency 
of medical theory and practice, not perhaps within 
the ranks of the conventionally trained profession 
itself — though here and there a voice was raised in 
protest against some phase or feature of medical 

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practice or theory — ^but more particularly among 
the laymen and the general public. 

It was indeed during the very time when Para- 
celsus was acquiring his medical training, that Eras- 
mus in his Praise of Folly, satirizing the follies of 
the time, said of the contemporary medical science, 
"And indeed the whole art as it is now practised is 
but one incorporated compound of craft and impos- 
ture." And Agrippa von Nettesheim, the elder con- 
temporary in Germany of Paracelsus, had also writ- 
ten/ 'The greatest reputation is attained by those 
physicians who are recommended by splendid cos- 
tumes, many rings and jewels, a distant fatherland, 
tedious travels, a strange religion, especially the 
Hindu or Mohammedan, and who combine with 
these a monstrous shamelessness in the praising of 
their medicines and cures. They observe times and 
hours most exactly, dispense their medicines always 
according to the astrological calendar, and hang all 
kinds of amulets on the patient. Simple and native 
medicines are quite neglected. Costly foreign rem- 
edies are preferred, which latter are mixed in such 
enormous numbers that the action of one is counter- 
acted by that of another, so that no human sagac- 
ity can foresee the effects which will arise from such 
an abominable mixture.'' 

Peter Ramus, the distinguished French human- 
ist and reform professor in the College of France — 
himself a great admirer of the work and skill of 

^ BsLZSyGeschichtliche Entwickelune des drztlichen Standes, Berlin, 
1896, p. 185. 

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Paracelsus, as shown in an essay urging certain 
reformations in the University of Paris (in 1562) 
— emphasized the laziness of the professors of medi- 
cine and theology, and complained that the analyz- 
ing of herbs and simples and the study of their 
effects upon the body were totally neglected.^ The 
shortcomings of the medical profession were evi- 
dently not unappreciated by many able contempo- 
rary critics. 

The medical theory of the period was based, as 
already mentioned, upon the doctrines of Hippoc- 
rates and Galen. With these Greek physicians, medi- 
cine had been indeed a living science, though primi- 
tive. They at least had learned by observation and 
experiment: but their medieval interpreters no 
longer experimented and their observations were 
only such as might enable them to apply the accepted 
doctrines and formulas of the ancient authorities. 
The teaching of medicine in the universities at the 
time of Paracelsus was practically confined to the 
reading of Avicenna, Mesne, Averrhoes and other 
interpreters of the Galenic doctrine, and commen- 
taries and exposition of their meaning by the lec- 
turer. Dissections and laboratory methods were 
lacking; though sometimes at rare intervals, when 
permitted by the civil and clerical authorities, dem- 
onstrations in anatomy — superficial and crude in- 
deed — were made in the presence of the medical 
students and the physicians of the town. The first 

2 Cf. Graves, Peter Ramus and the Educational Reformation of the 
Sixteenth Century, Macmillan, 1912, pp. 80. 82. 

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important publication on anatomy, marking the be- 
ginnings of the development of modern anatomical 
studies, was that of Vesalius which appeared in 
print two years after the death of Paracelsus. 

The authoritative theory of diseases was based 
upon the Galenic doctrine of the four humors or 
fluids of the body, phlegm, blood, the yellow and the 
black bile, — these being related by metaphysical 
analogy to the four elementary qualities — cold, dry, 
warm, moist. Any disturbances in the proper pro- 
portions of these fluids produced illnesses or disease. 
The nature of these disturbances was indicated by 
accepted symptoms. The treatment was directed 
toward restoring the supposed disturbed balance of 
qualities as indicated by the symptoms, and con- 
sisted generally of bleeding, purging, and the use of 
decoctions of herbs, generally extremely complex 
in their admixture. But through Oriental influences 
this Galenic theory, fantastic and unscientific as it 
was, had become complicated with astrology and 
other mysticisms, while the superstitions of the me- 
dieval Church, and the heathen superstitions of the 
northern European peoples were not without their 
influence upon local medical practice. 

Troels-Lund^ has interestingly described the 
prevalent beliefs of the sixteenth century as to the 
causes and cures of disease. They may be briefly 
summarized as follows: 

First: Disease comes from God by His direct 
volition as warning or as punishment. The logical 
^Op. cit., pp. 41 ff. 

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conclusion was that God should be permitted to 
effect the cure. Prayers, penances, and the offices 
of the Church were thus the natural instrumental- 
ities through which the divine mercy might be in- 
voked to relieve the suffering. Manifestly the skill 
of the physician had here little place. 

Second : Disease comes from the influence of the 
Devil and his agents. Here again prayers, pen- 
ances, exorcisms and purification by the offices of 
the Church might avail (white, magic). So also, 
however, might magic ceremonies and formulas, 
and exorcisms by wise women, and magicians, who 
presumably owed their power to their superior 
knowledge of the occult powers of nature, or per- 
chance even to unholy alliances with the powers of 
evil (black magic). Here also there was little room 
for the skill of the physician, though it might be he 
could assist — who could be certain? 

Third : Disease comes from the stars. This no- 
tion has been discussed previously. Here evidently 
the physican might help, who knew the secrets of the 
heavens, and who gathered and prepared his reme- 
dies at the auspicious time and could administer 
them when the planets were favorable. 

Fourth: Disease comes from the disturbances 
in the fluids or humors of the body. This was the 
Galenic doctrine above mentioned. 

A fifth general idea as to the cause of disease 
mentioned by Troels-Lund, ;nay have been but an 
elaboration of the fourth, viz., that disease was 
owing to something lacking in the body which medi- 

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cine could supply to restore as it were the equilib- 
rium, and with this idea there was developed a body 
of materia medica during the sixteenth century 
which presented an astonishing catalog of often 
almost incredible and repulsive remedies. 

To this question as to the causes of disease, Para- 
celsus, in his desire to replace the ancient authori- 
ties by something more in accordance with his own 
philosophy of nature, applied himself with char- 
acteristic originality, and with some intuitive in- 

He catalogs and describes five ''entities," or 
active principles, which influence the health of man. 
These principles or influences are the ens astrale, 
or sidereal influence; the ens veneni, or influence 
of poisons; the ens naturale, or influence which 
exists in the nature of the individual, the micro- 
cosm; the ens spirituale, influences acting not di- 
rectly upon the body but through the spirit (Geist) ; 
the ens deale — the will of God acting directly to 
produce illness by way of warning or punishment. 

With respect to the first of these, the influence 
of the stars (the ens astrale) we have already seen 
that he recognizes the influence of the stars without 
admitting their control of the destinies of man, and 
we have had an illustration of his curious attempt 
to explain their influence by the hypothesis of vari- 
ous effluvia conveyed from the stars through the 

His treatment of the second influen'ce, the ens 
veneni, is of interest as illustrating both his corn- 

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prehension of an important physiological fact, and 
his fanciful and imaginative elaboration of it into 
theory. "The body was given us without poison, 
and there is no poison in it ; but that which we must 
give the body for its food contains poison."* He 
elaborates this idea by explaining that the plant 
and animal food which we eat contain both useful 
and useless material, wholesome and unwholesome, 
food and poison. In the body the food and the poi- 
son must be separated, the food being transformed 
into flesh and blood and bone, etc., the poisons elim- 
inated. This separation, he considers, is effected | 
by the "Archaeus," a directing force or spirit. The 
Archaeus, situated in the stomach, sorts out and 
separates the wholesome from the unwholesome 
in the food. So long as the Archaeus performs his 
functions properly our food is wholesome and the 
body thrives. Should from any cause the Archaeus 
become ill or incapacitated, the separation is in- 
complete and we suffer from the poisons being im- 
perfectly eliminated. The Archaeus is, then, says 
Paracelsus, an alchemist, for his functions are simi- 
lar to those of the chemist in his laboratory. Other 
animals have their "Archaei," and their functions 
vary in degree from those of man. 

"The peacock eats snakes, lizards, stellions ; these 
are animals which in themselves are perfect and 
healthy, though to the needs of other animals sheer 
poison, but not to the peacock. For from whatever 
causes it may be, his alchemist is so subtle that the 

* op. fol, I, 9, "Paramirum." 

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alchemist of no other animal equals him, who so 
cleverly separates the poison* from the good, in that 
which the peacock, eats without injury. 

"Observe, then, that every animal has food 
adapted to it and which has been ordained for him 
by his alchemist who separates the proper materials. 
To the ostrich there is given an alchemist who sep- 
arates iron," etc." 

In everything there is an essence and a poison; 
an essence is that which preserves man, a poison 
that which produces illness. 

It is difficult to say to what extent Paracelsus be- 
lieved that this presiding Archaeus was a true spirit 
having an individuality or personality of its own, 
to whart extent a term to typify a force or principle. 
It is interesting to note that in the Latin text of his 
work De gradibus (1526), published by Huser after 
the manuscript of the pupil and amanuensis of 
Paracelsus, Oporinus, the following definition ap- 
pears: "Archaeus est ista vis quae produxit res, 
id est dispensator et compositor omnium rerum." 
The word vis, or "force," is here noteworthy, 
though not necessarily a demonstration of the exact 
notion possessed by Paracelsus himself. ^ 

To the philosophy of the neo-Platonists of the 
sixteenth century, however, the notions of force and 
principle and spirit were more closely connected, 
for as God was the soul of the universe, and as man 
— the microcosm — possesses a soul, so also all other 
parts of the macrocosm had souls or spirits. Or, 

' Ibid., I, 10. This is an anciefnt fable that the ostrich can eat iron. 

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as expressed by Agrippa von Nettesheim,' "It would 
be absurd if the heavens, the stars and the elements, 
which are for all beings the sources of life and soul, 
should themselves lack these — if every plant and 
every tree had part in a nobler destiny than the 
stars and the elements which are their natural be- 

The description of the third influence, the ens 
naturale, or the influences dependent upon the na-. 
ture of the individual, is more complicated. For 
man, the microcosm, was the epitome of the macro- 
cosm, and in his nature were to be found in a sense 
the counterparts of all external influences. As in 
the external universe the sun, moon and planets 
have their predestined and determined courses, so 
the mirocosm has its sun, moon and planets with 
their predestined courses. As the heavenly bodies 
could exert some influence on the health and dis- 
eases of men, so the corresponding planets of the 
human organism have similar influences. Thus, 
as the sun by its light and heat influences all living 
things, so the heart, the sun of the body, has its 
determined course and gives light and warmth to 
the body. To the moon and its influences corre- 
sponds the brain in man; similarly, the lungs cor- 
respond to Mercury, the liver to Jupiter, the kidneys 
to Venus, the gall to Mars, etc. Thus the planets 
have their analogies in the body, and each has its 
established course and influence, its conjunctions and 
oppositions. These courses are, according to Para- 

« As quoted by Cassirer, op. cit., I, p. 207. 

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celsus, foreordained at birth, and the time is set for 
their life and activities, as an hourglass is set for 
a determined time. "For example, a child is born 
at a certain hour, and is to live according to his 
ens naturale for ten hours, as had been predestined 
at its creation. Then the courses of its bodily 
planets will be completed just as if it had lived a 
hundred years. And the hundred-year man has no 
different course than the one-hour child, but a slower 
one. Thus are we to understand what the creation 
and predestination are in the ens naturale. Observe, 
however, that the other entia often interrupt the 

All this is fanciful and fantastic enough. The 
one fundamental observation underlying the elab- 
orate metaphysical structure seems to be the recog- 
nition of the varying endowments of vital energy 
with which different individuals are provided at 
birth, and of the fact that not alone upon external 
influences is the health or illness of individuals de- 

The fourth influence, the ens spirituale, is also 
treated in quite a fantastic manner as judged from 
our present point of view, though to a period when 
witches and sorcerers were tortured and burned, 
there was probably little in the thought of Para- 
celsus which might not be plausible enough to his 

The ens spirituale comprises those influences 
which affect the body only indirectly by direct action 

T op, foL, I, 14, "Paramirum." 

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Upon the spirit (Geist), Paracelsus distinguishes 
between spirit (Geist) and soul (Seek). 

"Take note that there is not comprehended in 
this ens spirituale any devil nor his effects nor his 
assistance [Zulendung], for the devil is no spirit 
[Geist] : an angel also is not a spirit. That is a 
spirit which is born from our thoughts, without 
matter, in the living body : that which is born after 
our death, that is the soul [Seele].''^ 

The spirit may suffer from diseases like the 
body, but it must not be forgotten that when the 
spirit suffers the body suffers also. 

He explains how these spirits may be created by 
the will of man when he thinks of another person, 
in waking or in sleeping hours — and the spirits thus 
engendered may attack the spirits of the person 
thus selected, and do injury to them and through 
them to their possessor. On the other hand, the 
spirit thus assailed may successfully resist and pre- 
vail over the attacking spirit, in which case the 
originator himself will be the sufferer. 

In the discussion of this topic Paracelsus mani- 
festly realizes that he is liable to come into danger- 
ous conflict with the Church doctrines, if misunder- 
stood, and warns his readers that they "lay aside 
the style which is called theological. For not every- 
thing is sacred which is called theological, and not 
everything is holy which theology employs. Also all 
is not true which he uses who does not understand 
theology aright."" 

« Ibid., I, 17. 9 Ibid. 

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This curious attempt to explain the mechanism 
of the then generally credited occult influence of 
one person upon another by magic or charms or 
witchcraft or the evil eye seems strangely foreign 
to our modern thought, but it is well to remember 
that such representative thinkers of that time and 
of later times — as Trithemius, Pico della Miran- 
dola, Agrippa, Melanchthon, Cardanus and Gior- 
dano Bruno, were all believers and writers or lec- 
turers upon magical influences. 

In the ens deale Paracelsus recognizes the in- 
fluence of the will of God upon the health of men. 
But instead of accepting the inference that through 
the offices of the Church is help to be obtained, he 
emphasizes the idea that God has created the system 
of nature and that He prefers to work through na- 
ture rather than by direct interference. The true 
physician, therefore, is he who understands the phe- 
nomena of nature, and is through that knowledge 
the agent through whom God acts. This point of 
view is a dominating thought with Paracelsus and 
is brought forward continually in many of his works. 
As God may send illness so He sends the physician 
at the proper time when the period of the punish- 
ment is completed, for naturally only then may the 
cure be effected. 

"When He performs a miracle. He performs it 
humanly and through mankind; if He effects won- 
derful cures, He does that through men, and there- 
fore the physician."^\ 

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He admits that there may be two kinds of phy- 
sicians, those that heal through the faith, and those 
who heal through their skill in medicine. Not all 
have sufficiently strong faith, but the end of the 
period of punishment having arrived, the physician 
may cure through the art of medicine. Curing by 
the power of the Christian faith, he explains, more- 
over cannot apply to the heathen — Turks, Sara- 
cens, Jews, etc., but asserts that he teaches the foun- 
dations of medicine not only for Christians but for 
all others as well. 

"The physician is the servant of nature, and 
God is the master of nature.'"^ 

"But that you may know what the reasons are 
that God has created medicine and the physician 
because He is the physician, and yet works through 
the physician and does not Himself act without a 
physician, understand this explanation, that such is 
His mystery that He does not will that the sick 
shall know that God is the physician, but that the 
art may have a procedure and a practice, and that 
man shall not perceive His help in miracles alone, 
that is, in God Himself, but also in His creatures 
that they may help through the artist in medicine, 
and that according to His predestination in its 
proper time.'"^ 

"So know then all, that we human beings are 
born naked and bare, and bring with us neither 
knowledge nor wisdom, but await the grace of God 
whatever He may send us. And He gives us noth- 

" Ibid., I. 22. 12 itid., I, 22f. 

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ing as a free gift but life. Whether we be well or 
sick, that He commands through nature; teaching 
us to speak, that He ordains through otif parents; 
and so on, as we grow up, we must learn all things 
with labor and difficulty, for we possess not the 
least knowledge. As, then, we must learn, there 
must be something which is not human that teaches 
us. For man at first can do nothing. If we then 
wish to learn, our first foundation is in God, that 
we acknowledge Him as our God who teaches us 
and sends us what is needful. And if we consider 
all things well we find that all things take place 
through an instrumentality which God has provided 
at the Creation. Thus God the Father, when He 
created the heavens and the earth, created them to 
be an instrumentality through which that should 
come to us over which our bodies should rule. Thus 
is man the master of medicine, of the fields, the 
meadows and the vineyards.''^* 

This formal cataloging and characterization of 
the five entia which influence the health of man, by 
no means adequately present the whole theory of 
disease entertained by Paracelsus. He also char- 
acterizes disease itself as an organism. Troels- 
Lund well summarizes this theory as follows: 'Tt 
is not, as the Arabians accepted, something only 
negative in relation to positive health. It is itself 
something positive. It is a form of life of its own, 
a parasite organism, a microcosm. Man is in illness 
of two natures, has at the same time two bodies in 

^^ Ibid., I, 113, "Liber de origine morborum invisibilium." 

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one and the same. To understand this rightly we 
must make it clear what that is we call life. Life 
is always an intimate union of three constituents: 
Salt, Sulphur, Mercury. So long as life lasts they 
ifofm an intimate union and are not noticed. But 
if they begin to separate and to become separately 
noticeable in pains and burnings, this is disease and 
it may lead to complete separation : to death. Life 
is something invisible while its elements arie kept 
together. If life ceases they separate and become 
visible. You do not understand this? Try it. A 
tree lives. Cut it into firewood and it dies. When 
you now burn it, that which burns is Sulphur, that 
which vaporizes is Mercury, and that which is ashes 
is Salt. There is nothing more in it. All these 
three, the combustible, the volatile, the insoluble, 
are found united in everything living and are sep- 
arated only when it dies. These three it is which 
we characterize by the names of Sulphur, Mercury, 

"Disease is a conflict between two invisible forms 
of life — disease and health, which are both harbored 
in the same organism. The conflict is carried on 
everywhere in the body; is felt as heat, cold, dis- 
comfort, pain in all regions. The fever, the pain, 
are not the disease but only expressions of the force, 
the form, under which the nature of the organism, 
the inner alchemist, or archaeus, or whatever you 
choose to call the living force within you, seeks to 
put to flight the disease. The main battle consists 

1* op. cit., pp. 156f . 

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in the crisis. If the 'archseus' wins, the disease must 
dissolve — ^give way, and be exerted as perspiration, 
excreta, respiration. If the disease conquers, the 
organism is dissolved in death."^*^ 

"Disease itself he viewed as a half spiritual, half 
corporeal living organism, as a microcosm within 
the microcosm, as a kind of parasite — with its own 
life-phenomena and life-processes within the human 
organism; its healing takes place when nature or 
medical art succeeds in developing so forceful a 
vital activity that the parasite is suffocated, that is, 
the disease is overcome.''^* 

Another and more modern phase of thought 
which is much emphasized by Paracelsus is the cura- 
tive power which lies in nature herself, independent 
of all medical assistance. 

"That you may understand what it is that heals 
wounds, for without that knowledge you may not 
readily recognize the remedy, you must ,know that 
the nature of the flesh, of the body, the veins, the 
bones, has in it an innate force [mumia^'^] which 
heals wounds, thrusts, and such like things. That 
is to say, the force lying in the bone heals the 
fracture, the force naturally contained in the flesh 
heals the flesh. So with every member, it must 
be understood, each has its healing in itself and 

15 Ibid., p. 159. 

1^ R. J. Hartmann, Theophrast von Hohenheim, Stuttgart, 1904, 
p. 90. 

'^ Mumia, usually meaning mummy or the dead body, Paracelsus 
uses also in a somewhat mystical sense — as an attractive force which 
he compares to the influence of the magnet on iron. Cf. Op. foL, II, 313. 

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thus nature has in every member that which heals 
the wounded part. Therefore the surgeon should 
know that it is not he that heals, but the force 
in the body. If the physician thinks it is he that 
heals he deceives himself and does not understand 
his art. But that you may know for what purpose 
you, the surgeon, exist, learn that it is to provide a 
shield and protection to nature in the injured part 
against enemies, so that these external foes may not 
retard, poison, nor spoil the force of nature, but 
that it may remain in its vital power and influence 
by the maintenance of such protection. Therefore 
he who can protect and take good care of wounds 
is a good surgeon."^^ 

'Tn nature's battle against disease the physician 
is but the helper, who furnishes nature with weap- 
ons, the apothecary is but the smith who forges 
them. The business of the physician is therefore 
to give to nature what she needs for her battle .... 
Nature is the physician."^** 

These medical theories of Paracelsus were ex- 
tremely heretical in the eyes of the medical pro- 
fession of the time. It was not possible for him to 
have publicly maintained his theories without ex- 
citing the opposition of the medical faculties and 
practitioners. Least of all was that possible in the 
universities which were the very strongholds of 

The practice of his profession differed as de- 

^8 Chir. Bucher, etc., p. 2, "Grosse Wundartzney.'* 

^^ Jhid., p. 207, "Ursprung und Herkommen der Frantzosen." 

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cidedly as did his theories from the conventional 
methods of diagnosis and treatment. Having bro- 
ken with the teachings of the ancient authorities, 
the young physician had not hesitated to learn from 
all sources which were open to him in his travels 
in his own and in foreign lands and his sojourning 
among all classes of people, the remedies and treat- 
ments used by all kinds of healers and the homely 
remedies in use among the common people. His 
chemical knowledge and his chemical theories of the 
nature of vegetable or mineral substances in their 
relation to the nature of man doubtless suggested 
new ideas, and these he tested by observation and 
experience. To what extent these new methods 
were original with him, and to what extent accumu- 
lated during his wanderings in foreign lands or 
among the villages of Germany or Switzerland, it 
is not possible to state. Certain it is that many of 
the remedies and treatments he used and taught 
were new to the medical literature of his time. The 
complex syrups and decoctions of rare and costly 
herbs he rejected, and taught instead that the true 
aim of chemist and physician was to separate from 
medicinal raw materials their effective principles, 
spirits, or arcana, by the application of chemical 
processes. In this line of work he set the example 
of using, instead of the complicated and irrational 
mixtures of the medieval pharmacopoeia, simpler ex- 
tracts and purer medicinal preparations, both min- 
eral and vegetable. 

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UPON entrance into his office of university lec- 
turer upon medicine at the University of 
Basel, Paracelsus made no secret of his wide diver- 
gence from the accepted doctrines and practice of 
the established school. On the contrary, he promptly 
declared war upon the ancient authorities arid upon 
the prevalent theories and practice of medicine. 

Naturally also the faculties and profession were 
indignant and opposition arid antagonism soon de- 
veloped. After a few weeks it appears that his lec- 
tures were interfered with and interrupted. The 
medical faculty invoked a statute, not consistently 
observed previously however, that any newly ar- 
rived physician should, before being admitted to 
practice, within two months receive the approba- 
tion of the medical faculty. They also questioned 
his title of Doctor of Medicine and demanded that 
he be required to appear and defend 'his right to 
the title. To these attacks Paracelsus replied by an 
appeal to the city authorities by whom he had been 
appointed, that they maintain their authority by 
supporting his position under the conditions by 
which he held his position. He also requested that 

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they use their authority to put an end to the persecu- 
tions by his opponents. The City Council seems to 
have sustained his contentions, and in the June fol- 
lowing (1527) he had printed and posted the formal 
Latin announcement of his courses in medicine. In 
this program he stated plainly that he should not 
teach the ancient books, but should teach the art of 
medicine according to his knowledge of nature, and 
his long and tried experience. He should teach from 
his own writings. It was not smooth talking nor the 
knowledge of many languages that made the physi- 
cian, nor the reading of many books, but the knowl- 
edge of things and of their hidden powers. It was 
the business of the physician to know the varieties 
of diseases, their causes and symptoms and to em- 
ploy the right remedies with insight and with in- 
dustry. Those who were willing to be led by him 
into these new paths should come to Basel. "He 
only may judge who has heard Theophrastus."^ 

These and similar statements in his program 
were not calculated to make his Galenic antagonists 
more friendly, but these were not his only offenses. 
Contrary to all academic observance and tradition, 
Paracelsus lectured in the common German tongue.^ 
Though Luther was then preaching in German, and 
though others had preached even in Basel in the ver 
nacular, and his colleague and supporter CEcolam- 
padius had introduced the singing of German in- 
stead of Latin hymns into his church service, never 

^ Cf. R. J. Hartmann, Theophrast von Hohenheim, pp. 50f. 
2 Ibid., pp. 43f. 

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yet had a university teacher ventured to lecture in 
any other than the customary Latin language. This 
was another scandal and an insult not to be for- 

An early termination of his academic career 
was inevitable, and was, indeed, not long delayed. 
Opposition to his teachings and to his tenure of the 
professorship became more intense. It appears that 
his lectures were largely attended not only by quali- 
fied medical students but by many others less for- 
mally schooled, to whom his lectures in the common 
language opened the door. It is also doubtless true 
that Paracelsus, realizing that among the conven- 
tionally trained medical students he should meet 
with m.ore hostility than appreciation, counted upon 
reaching by this means, a larger and more sympa- 
thetic constituency. 

Constantly irritated by the evidences of hostility 
and contempt which the medical faculty and their 
sympathizers among students and citizens exhibited, 
Paracelsus evidently retaliated in his lectures by 
bitter retorts and expressions of defiance and con- 
tempt for the doctrines, dogmas and practice of his 
adversaries. He even went so far as to emphasize 
his breach with traditional authorities by throwing 
into the students' bonfire on St. John's Day celebra- 
tion, that most revered authority of the medical 
teaching of that time, the Canon of Avicenna. 

This was flagrant defiance and open insult to the 
most sacred traditions of the established school. To 
the medical world it was much like the burning of 

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the papal bull by Martin Luther to the Roman Cath- 
olic world of that day. We may perhaps better rea- 
lize the significance of the act if we recall that a 
generation later (1559), in England, a Dr. Gaynes 
was cited before the College of Physicians and Sur- 
geons for impugning the infallibility of Galen, and 
only upon acknowledgment of error and humble re- 
cantation signed with his own hand was he re- 
admitted to standing.* 

One episode of the petty persecutions of his an- 
tagonists evidently excited the irritable physician 
and wounded his pride in the highest degree, as 
later allusions in his own writings evidence suffi- 
ciently. There appeared one Sunday, posted at the 
church doors or other public places, copies of Latin 
verses addressed to "Theophrastus or better Caco- 
phrastus," purporting to come from the shade of 
Galen in the lower regions — ex inferis — attacking 
and ridiculing Theophrastus and his teachings. 

This anonymous and public attack enraged the 
already irritated and abused physician beyond en- 

He addressed a strong appeal to the Council of 
the City, complaining of his treatment and demand- 
ing that they take measures to seek out and appro- 
priately punish the culprits, whom he believed to 
be among his hearers, attending his lectures for 
the purpose of abusing him. If the authorities can- 
not satisfy his petition, and should such attacks be 
repeated, he must not be blamed for no longer en- 

8 Cf. Chambers' Encyclopedia, 1st ed., art. "Galenus." 

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1 ^^^^^1 




■S* j^^fl 



^Kl L vv 





^Sm^B^, k% 




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9b^3h^ *" '*v4 










1 ■ 
) 1 
















Painted by an unknown artist, about half a century after Paracelsus*s 
death, when the struggle between enemies and adherents of Para- 
celsus was at its height. The intention to stigmatize Paracelsus 
as a charlatan is plain. Original in the Imperial Gallery at Vienna. 

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during them, or if he should in anger take unwar- 
ranted action. 

It does not appear that the Council took any de- 
cisive action upon this request, and the episode 
served to intensify the animosity entertained by 
Paracelsus toward the university faculties and pro- 
fession, and evidently directly stimulated some of 
the most violent attacks to be found in his writings. 

While still irritated and rankling under the sense 
of abuse and injustice, there occurred an incident 
which brought the academic career of Paracelsus 
and his residence in Basel to a sudden termination. 

A prominent and wealthy citizen of Basel, Canon 
Lichtenfels, was suffering from a painful and ob- 
stinate illness, and failing to receive relief at the 
hands of his physicians had offered a hundred gul- 
dens for any cure. Eventually Paracelsus was called 
in. Through his ministration relief being quickly 
obtained, the physician claimed the promised re- 
ward. The Canon, however, having recovered his 
health and mental equilibrium, declined to pay the 
large sum offered, sending him six guldens and a 
letter of thanks and appreciation. 

Paracelsus thereupon brought suit for the 
amount promised. The court, however, decided 
against him. In his irritation he is said to have 
denounced the action of the judges in such terms 
as to make himself liable to severe punishment. 
Warned of the danger by friends, he left Basel over 
night — never to return to that city which he had 
entered with such high hopes and enthusiasm, and 

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which he left in disappointment and bitterness of 

Paracelsus had begun his work in Basel in the 
fall of 1526 and his sudden departure took place 
probably in February, 1528, a brief career as uni- 
versity teacher but for Paracelsus a momentous one. 

The indignation he felt toward his adversaries 
finds expression in its most violent form in the 
Paragranum and particularly in the Introduction 
to that work. The work itself is a brief formulation 
of his theory of the foundations of medical science. 
The sense of injury, and the bitterness of his disil- 
lusionment at the disastrous finish of his academic 
career finds vent in a caustic and vigorous attack 
upon the orthodox profession — sometimes reaching 
a rude eloquence, sometimes breaking out into boast- 
ful predictions or into coarse abuse. That this work 
was not printed during his life enabled it perhaps to 
preserve a characteristic flavor which it might have, 
to some extent, lost if he had himself published it, 
as in certain other cases we know that he carefully 
revised the first drafts of communications which he 
had written under the stress of strong feeling. The 
following quotation will serve to convey some idea 
of its style and content: 

'That they are angry at me because I write 
otherwise than is contained in their authors, results 
not from mine but from their ignorance, for I, as 
my writings prove, am not outside of but well 
grounded in the foundation of medicine and in the 
proper May-time the evidence will come forth. That 

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they grumble at such timely writings does not result 
from slight causes: — for no one cries out unless 
hurt, no one is hurt unless sensitive,, no one is sensi- 
tive unless transitory and not permanent. These 
men cry out because their.arti^ fragile and perish- 
able. Now, nothing cries out unless it be perishable, 
and therefore they are perishable and therefore they 
cry out against me. The art of medicine does not 
cry out against me, for it is imperishable and so 
established upon immortal foundations that heaven 
and earth shall pass away before the art of medicine 
shall perish. If, then, the art of medicine leaves me 
at peace, why should I let myself be disturbed by 
the crying of these perishable physicians. They only 
cry because I defeat and wound them: — that is a 
sign that they lie sick in the arts of medicine: — 
their disease is their battle against me, which they 
do not like to have discovered and made manifest."* 

"Their highest ones are opposed to me because 
I do not come from their schools nor write accord- 
ing to them. Should I write thus, I could not escape 
the blame of falsehood, for the writings of the an- 
cients prove themselves false. Who, then, can be 
born from them without falseness .... 

"Now if I am to present my case in opposition to 
these, I must claim for myself that upon which the 
art of medicine rests, in order that it may be gen- 
erally recognized whether I am entitled to speak or 
not. And I place the foundation upon which I stand 
and from which I write, upon four pillars: upon 

♦ op. fol, T, 198, "Paragranum." 

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Philosophy, upon Astronomy, upon Alchemy, upon 
Virtue. Upon these four will I stand and await 
any antagonists, and see whether from outside of 
these four, any physician will stand againgt mp. 
Pespisers are they of philosophy, despisers of as- 
tronoffiTyj-despisers of alchemy, despisers of virtue — 
how, then, can they remain undespised by the sick 
when they despise that which gives to the sick the 
kvt of medicine, for with what measure they mete 
it will be measured to them again and their works 
bring them to shame. Christ was the foundation 
pf blessedness, and for that he wa^ despised, but tfte 
real contempt fell upon his contemners so that nei- 
ther they nor Jerusalem survived . . . And take notice, 
either you too must accept and recognize these four 
pillars, or it will become manifest to the peasants 
jn the villages that your art of medicine is only for 
(leceiving princes and lords, cities and countries, and 
that your. art possesses neither knowledge nor truth, 
and the chastisement which you are receiving rightly 
comes to you, ye fools and^hypocrites, that is to say, 
ye so-called physicians. [As I claim these four pil- 
lars for myself, .so must you accept them and must 
follow after me — not I after you — Ye after me, 
Avicenna, Galen, Rhasis, Montagnana, Mesue, etc. 
After me and not I after you — ^Ye of Paris, ye of 
Montpellier, ye of Swabia, ye of Meissen, ye of 
Cologne, ye of Vienna, and those who are on the 
J3ariube and the Rhine, ye islands of the sea, — thou 
Italia, thou "Dalmatia, thou Athens, thou Greece, 
thou Arabia, thou Israelita, after me and not I after 

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Oil-painting, original in Salzburg. Artist unknown. 

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> . PTl ft OPPA^TVS. PAR A 
r ^ CH.St'S* PHiix\«:orHV<: ,' 
*■ ^niCV^MATHlHATfH 



After a life-size oil-painting in the State Gallery at Schleissheim near 
Munich. Artist and date uncertain. Has been attributed to 
Hans Baldung (ca. 1470-1552). 

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you, — there will none of you remain in the furthest 
corner on whom the dogs will not. . . . {j shall be 
monarch and mine will be the monarchy."" ( 

"This is certain, that the restoring to health is 
what makes a physician, — their work it is that 
makes the Master and the Doctor, — not the Em- 
peror, not the Pope, not the Faculty, not the privi- 
legia, nor any university, for from them is hidden 
that which makes the physician. Therefore they 
depend only upon outward appearances that they 
may be somewhat seen. There has never any phy- 
sician^been born from the universities nor has any 
one been able there to learn with knowledge of the 
truth the cause of the least malady."® 

"Ye are of the serpent kind and hence I must 
expect only poison from you. With what scorn 
have you placarded me as the Luther of Physicians, 
with the explanation that I am an arch-heretic. I 
am Theophrastus and greater than those to whom 
you liken me. I am Theophrastus and am more- 
over Monarch of Physicians, and can prove that 
which you cannot prove. I will let Luther answer 
for his own affairs and I will take care of mine and 
will surpass every one who attacks me, — the Arcana 
will help me to that. Who are enemies of Luther ^ 
The same crowd hates me also, and what you, for 
your part, wish for him so you wish for me, that is, 
to the fire. 

"The stars did not make me a physician — God 
made me ; it is not for the stars to make physicians, 

^Ihid., I, 199. ^Ibid., I, 201r. 

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that is a work of God, not of the stars. I may 
well rejoice that rascals are my enemies — for the 
truth has no enemies but liars .... I need lay on no 
armor against you — no corselet, for you are not 
so learned nor experienced that you can disprove 
my least letter. 1 Could I protect my bald head from 
the flies as easily as I can my monarchy, and were 
Milan as safe from its enemies as I from you, neither 
Swiss nor foot-soldiers could gain entrance."^ 

The work Paragranum as well as the Preface 
from which the above extracts are taken contains 
many similar attacks upon his antagonists, soune of 
them indeed couched in language which will not 
bear translation. Even admitting what he has him- 
self claimed that in such assaults he is but replying 
in kind to similar attacks upon him, it is evident 
that these outbursts of indignation, however justified 
they may have been, nevertheless were not calcu- 
lated to appeal to thoughtful men whether friendly 
to his campaign or otherwise. On the other hand, 
it should be said that these utterances as found in 
the Paragranum represent an extreme of bitterness 
and lack of restraint which is not characteristic of 
the great mass of the work of Paracelsus. At a 
later period of his life, Hohenheim thus refers to 
his own blunt style of writing: "My style pleases 
me very well. In order to offer a defense for my 
strange fashion and how it is to be understood, know 
this, — ^by nature I am not woven fine — it is not the 
fashion of my land that one attains anything by 
^ Ibid., I, 202. 

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Spinning silk. Nor are we reared on figs or mead 
or wheaten bread, but on cheese, milk and oaten 
bread. That does not make subtle fellows."* 

At a later time of his life, in the Preface to his 
influential work The Greater Surgery (1536), pre- 
pared and published under his personal supervision, 
he has given us a summary of his experience in the 
study of medicine and of the motives which largely 
influenced him in his career. The fact that he per- 
sonally supervised the printing of this work lends 
particular interest to the passage. 

'*\ have always," he says, "applied myself with 
great attention and industry to learn the foundations 
of medicine, whether it could properly be called an 
art or no, or what there is in- it. I was impelled 
by many reasons to do this: namely by the uncer- 
tainty of its procedure, and that so little reputation 
and honor have appeared to come from its practice ; 
that so many sick have been ruined, killed, crippled 
and even abandoned, not in one disease only but in 
nearly all diseases. So uncertain was it that, in my 
time, there has been no physician who could even 
cure a toothache with certainty, to say nothing of 
more severe illnesses. Also with the ancient authors, 
such folly is found in their writings. And we see, 
moreover, how great cities and rich persons oflFer 
large sums, and are yet abandoned in their need by 
the physicians, who nevertheless go about in silks, 
golden rings, etc., with no little reputation, display 
and idle babble. I have several times decided to 

8 op. fol, I, 261, "Die sechste Defension." 

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abandon this art. For the reason that no one seemed 
certain of anything, that it was a collection of fables 
and a honeyed device for attracting pennies; that 
it was an art founded on credulity, so that if one 
should chance to hit upon the day of recovery he 
could then attribute (though unjustly) the credit to 
his art, to which it did not belong. I have often 
quitted the art, and unwillingly practised it. 

"And yet in this matter I have not quite followed 
my convictions, but have acted with my usual simple- 
mindedness. I therefore attended the universities 
for many years, in Germany, in Italy and France, 
and sought the foundations of medicine, and was not 
only anxious to devote myself to their doctrines, 
books and writings, but I wandered further — to 
Granada, to Lisbon, through Spain, through Eng- 
land, through the Mark [Brandenburg], through 
Prussia, Lithuania, Poland, Hungary, Wallachia, 
Transylvania, Croatia, the Wendian Mark [i. e., 
Lusatia, now a part of Prussia and Saxony], as also, 
other countries not necessary to enumerate. And in 
all corners and places I industriously and diligently 
questioned and sought for the true and experienced 
arts of medicine. And not alone with the doctors; 
but also with barbers, surgeons, learned physicians, 
women, magicians who practise that art; with al- 
chemists; in the cloisters; with the noble and the 
common, with the wise and the simple. But even 
then I could not learn to be fundamentally certain 
— no matter what disease it might be. I pondered 
over it much — that medicine was an uncertain art 

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not honorably to be followed, an unfair art to be hit 
upon by chance ; — for one that was cured, ten are 
ruined. It caused me to think that it was a decep- 
tion by spirits to mislead men and to degrade them. 
I again abandoned the art and went into other busi- 
ness. But yet again was driven back to it. But 
then I discovered this saying of Christ, The whole 
need not a physician, but the sick.' This impressed 
me so much that I had to substitute another view of 
the matter; that according to the meaning of the 
saying of Christ, the art of medicine is true, just, 
certain, perfect and whole, and that in it neither 
deception by spirits, nor fortune was to blame, but 
that it was an art proven in need, useful to all sick 
and leading to health. When I accepted this and 
adopted it for my own, it was necessary that I should 
consider what that medical art was that I had 
learned from books and from others, and I found 
this much, that no one of them had known the foun- 
dation of the art, nor had had experience in it, nor 
understood it, and that they had gone (and still go) 
around the art of medicine like a cat around the 
[hot] porridge; that they were teaching that which 
they themselves did not know, that they did not 
understand their own disputations, that they visited 
and advised the sick, but understood neither the 
disease nor the art of curing. Therefore the fault 
was alone in those who practised the art. — There 
was, and is, so much idle talk : mountebanks and chat- 
terers were they in their display and pomp, and there 
was nothing in them but a tomb which outwardly 

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is beautiful but inwardly a stinking and corrupt 
mass, full of worms. For such reasons I was forced 
to seek further — to stop reading the above-men- 
tioned evil lies, and to seek for another foundation 
[of medicine] which should be unspotted by such 
fables and babble ; and first in the surgery of wounds 
which in my experience thus far is the most certain. 
What experience I have had therein follows later."*" 

^Chir. Bucher, etc., "Grosse Wundartzney," Preface. 

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WHATEVER be the final judgment as to the 
relative importance of Paracelsus in the up- 
building of medical science and practice, it must be 
recognized that he entered upon his career at Basel 
with the zeal and the self-assurance of one who 
believed himself inspired with a great truth, and 
destined to effect a great advance in the science 
and practice of medicine. By nature he was a keen 
and open-minded observer of whatever came under 
his observation, though probably also not a very 
critical analyst of the observed phenomena. He 
was evidently an unusually self-reliant and inde- 
pendent thinker, though the degree of originality 
in his thought may be a matter of legitimate dif- 
ferences of opinion. Certainly once having from 
whatever combination of influences made up his 
mind to reject the sacredness of the authority of 
Aristotle, Galen and Avicenna, and having found 
what to his mind was a satisfactory substitute for 
the ancient dogmas in his own modification of the 
neo-Platonic philosophy, he did not hesitate to burn 
his ships behind him. ' Having cut loose from the 
dominant Galenism of his time, he determined to 
preach and teach that the basis of the medical science 

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of the future should be the study of nature, observa- 
tion of the patient, experiment and experience, and 
not the infallible dogmas of authors long dead: 

Doubtless in the pride and self-confidence of his 
youthful enthusiasm he did not rightly estimate 
the tremendous force of conservatism against which 
he directed his assaults. If so, his experience in 
Basel surely undeceived him. From that time on he 
was to be a wanderer again, sometimes in great 
poverty, sometimes in moderate comfort, but mani- 
festly disillusioned as to the immediate success of 
his campaign though never in doubt ^s to its ulti- 
mate success — for to his mind his new theories and 
practice of medicine were at one with the forces of 
nature, which were the expression of God's will, and 
eventually they must prevail. 

Paracelsus was about thirty-four years of age 
when he left Basel, and from that time on for the 
remaining thirteen or fourteen years of his life, 
he seems to have devoted himself with a wonderful 
tenacity of purpose and with great energy and in- 
dustry, against opposition and discouragements of 
great magnitude, to the establishment of his medical 
system, to the explanation of the phenomena of 
nature in terms of his philosophy — to assailing the 
authority of ancient and venerated dogmas, and to 
denouncing the corruption, ignorance, venality and 
hypocrisy of the medical profession of his day. 

It is evident that during his sojourn in Basel, or 
perhaps even earlier, a profound influence had come 
into the life and thought of Paracelsus through con- 

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tact and sympathy with the spirit of revolt against 
the corruptions and observances of the Roman Cath- 
olic Church, Luther's translation of the New Tes- 
tament was printed at Wittenberg in 1522, and in 
1530 Zwingli and Leo Judah published their Ger- 
man translation of the Bible, some four years before 
Luther's complete Bible was published. His ac- 
quaintance in Basel with Erasmus and CEcolam- 
padius, both prominent in the thought of the Refor- 
mation period, doubtless also served to influence 
him. The revolt against traditional authorities in 
the Church doubtless appealed to the man who was 
battling against similarly entrenched authorities in 

Certainly Paracelsus was thoroughly familiar 
with the New Testament in the vernacular, and was 
deeply influenced by its spirit. While sympathetic 
with the Protestant revolt against the corruptions of 
the medieval Church, with characteristic indepen- 
dence he condemned alike the Papacy, Lutheranism, 
Zwingliism as equally foreign to the spirit of the 
teachings of Christ — which to his mind constituted 
the true catholic Church — and whose complete and 
all-sufficient doctrines were for him to be found in 
the New Testament. For the interpretation of these 
doctrines he looked neither to Pope nor the Fathers, 
nor to Luther or Zwingli — just as for the interpreta- 
tion of the art of medicine he did not depend on 
Galen, or Avicenna^ or university faculties. 

As we follow the story of the lifelong struggle 
of Paracelsus against the centuries-old conservatism 

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opposed to him, it is impossible not to feel great 
sympathy not only for the cause for which he la- 
bored but also for the self-sacrificing devotion and 
tremendous earnestness which he brought to his 

We can realize now at this distance that the 
condition of medical science and teaching was in his 
day at a very low ebb. Improvement was indeed 
hopeless so long as dogmas held as infallible in- 
hibited all initiative toward rational criticism or 
new experiment. We can see that the insistence! 
of Paracelsus upon the study of the patients and 
their diseases rather than of ancient books, his em- 
phasis upon the value of experiments, upon the 
application of chemistry to thie understanding of 
physiology and pharmacology, his own radical in- 
novations in the use of new and unauthorized reme- 
dies, and his denunciations of the hoUowness of 
much of the medical practice and teaching of his 
time, — that these were all working in the direction 
of progress. 

Realizing this, we can make allowance for his 
crudities, his limited understanding of the goal 
toward which his labors tended, his superstitions, 
his pseudo-science. We can sympathize with this 
lonely figure battling throughout his life to break 
the chains which held medical science enslaved, see- 
ing the path which must be followed to build that 
science upon surer foundations — yet himself too 
much hampered by the medieval point of view, too 
little versed in the methods of modern science to 

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clearly lead the way toward the goal he struggled 
to attain. 

But though we recognize the importance of the 
work of Paracelsus, while we admire the earnestness 
and essential sincerity of his reform campaign, we 
should be unfair to, his opponents of the conservative 
school of medicine, if we failed to recognize the 
shortcomings of Paracelsus which were in part res- 
ponsible for the lack of appreciation and of follow- 
ing which he could command during his life. Modern 
historians of medicine, while recognizing the im- 
portance and the essential sincerity of the work of 
Paracelsus have not been blind to these shortcom- 
ings. Thus Professor Wunderlich:^ 

"'It is not to be doubted that a man who, follow- 
ing his own spontaneous reflections, dared to break 
frankly and decisively with a spiritual domination 
of fifteen hundred years' standing, must have been 
a man of great self-confidence and energy. It is 
just as certain that Paracelsus possessed sufficient 
acuteness to see through the corruption of current 
practice and theory, and that his polemics against 
them gives evidence as well of rare power as of in- 
disputable talent. But it is also not to be denied 
that he was materially supported and encouraged 
in his destructive work by the spirit of the time, and 
that numerous others with him and even before him 
had equal insight into the necessity of reform of 
the science and presented the demand for it, though 
not with the violence of Paracelsus .... It may be 

1 Geschichte der Medizin, Stuttgart, 1859, p. 97. 

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accepted that Paracelsus did not intentionally vio- 
late the obligations of honest conviction; he was 
manifestly thoroughly imbued with that which he 
taught, and when he plunges into confusions and 
absurdities, it must be admitted that it is chiefly only 
his unclear thinking and an unfortunate mode of 
expression that disturbs his ideas .... We have no 
right to accuse him of intentional mystifications, but 
he lacked in any solid positive knowledge .... The 
demands of logical argumentation are totally un- 
known to him. . . .Superstitious prejudices control 
him, completely obscure and corrupt his ideas and 
are at all points confused with them. It must be 
admitted that many of his ideas are of magnificent 
conception and in advance of his time." 

Dr. Jos. Bauer^ thus summarizes the reform in- 
fluence of Paracelsus: 

"In order to infuse new life into the sluggish 
and torpid mass of science, there was needed a giani 
spirit, who with strong hand, regardless of author- 
ity and dogma, should seize the reins, and undis- 
turbed by the judgment of his time should under- 
stand how to sweep away the accumulated dross. 
All these qualities the reformer Hohenheim pos- 
sessed in the highest degree, and he ennobled these 
gifts by an unselfish honest spirit, though his in- 
clination to extravagances drove him into a fanati- 
cism which amounted to a complete autocracy in 
the domain of opinions. In order to maintain these 

2 Geschichte der Aderldsse, Munich, 1870, p. 146. 

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he trod underfoot the bounds of propriety and in 
that way alienated the sympathy of calm thinkers." 

The medical system of Paracelsus was not 
adapted, in Dr. Bauer's opinion, to influence the 
physicians of his time, and his ideas were carried 
forward by a» relatively small number of followers — 
often visionaries, and whose extravagances often 
did much to discredit his thought. So also Haser,' 
while acknowledging the great value of the services 
of Paracelsus to medicine, the purity of his enthu- 
siasm and his earnestness, nevertheless recognizes 
that the methods he used to attain his aims in the 
science were mistaken. 

'This contempt for the foundation of scientific 
medicine," says Haser, referring to Paracelsus's 
sweeping rejection of the importance of anatomy 
as a foundation of medicine, "is in all times the 
symbol of all transcendental as well as of all empir- 
ical systems. . . .With Paracelsus this undervalua-^ 
tion goes so far that he only uses the word 'anatomy' 
to denote that which in his opinion should form the 
foundation of medicine, the knowledge of the nature 
of life."* ''Above all he manifests the strong love 
of freedom native to the German and Swiss stock. 
'No one can be another's who can be his own.' This 
native self-consciousness was as with Luther, with 
whom he had much in common that is good, and 
with John Brown, with whom he had much in com- 
mon that is bad, nourished by the fact that he was 

3 Lehrhuch der Geschichte der Medisin, 3d ed., Jena, 1875-82. 
* Op. cit. Vol. II, p. 91. 

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lowly in origin, was born and lived in poverty, and 
that a rude bringing-up separated him from the 
finer manners of the cultivated classes. The neglect 
and slight which he experienced insulted his pride 
and drove him back into himself. By blameworthy 
or unblameworthy misfortunes he arrived at that 
arrogant disdain so peculiar to strong but unbend- 
ing natures, through premeditated contempt for 
the great accomplishments of his contemporaries 
to overestimation of his own power and his own 

One of the later writers upon the place of Para- 
celsus in the history of medicine, Dr. Hugo Mag- 
nus,® after commenting upon the condition of med- 
ical science of the time for which the dictum attrib- 
uted to Rhazes might well have served as a motto, 
"The study of a thousand books is more important 
for the physician than seeing a thousand patients," 
says, "That our hero soon felt the lamentable con- 
dition of his science gives very certain evidence of 
a sound and lively critical sense in matters medical. 
And that he soon gave expression to this dissatis- 
faction in powerful attacks upon the corrupt condi- 
tions must insure him at all events our sympathy. 
This fact alone, that Theophrastus Bombastus de- 
clared war to the knife upon the scholastic degen- 
erate medicine, will assure him our gratitude and 
an honorable place in the history of the healing art." 
• Dr. Magnus emphasizes that Paracelsus was 

^Ibid., p. 87. 

« Paracelsus Jer Ueberarjst, Breslau, 1906, p. 3. 

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himself nevertheless possessed of a medieval point 
of view, that he attacked his problems and mission 
not by modern scientific methods but with the same 
kind of reasoning as was used by nearly all his 
predecessors and contemporaries, only he discarded 
the conventional medievalism and sought to sub- 
stitute a similarly unreal and fantastic natural phi- 
losophy of his own based upon neo-Platonism. 

"For Theophrastus invented no new weapons 
but sought to achieve the highest knowledge with 
just the same equipment which mankind had used 
up to his time. He thought to discover the secrets 
of life, of existence and growth, by bold fantastic 
speculations, just as nearly all natural philosophers 
and physicians up to his time had hoped to do. So 
he stands, an embodiment of the conflict which 
rationalism has waged over the knowledge of na- 
ture, at the threshold of the new age — that age 
which attempts to tear from life its secrets not by 
speculation, but by observation, investigation and 
experiment. Vesalius set himself to the task to 
bring this new era into the world just as Para- 
celsus, the last romanticist in the struggle over the 
riddle of life, lowered his blunted weapons and, poor 
in knowledge, closed forever his tired eyes."^ 

In these estimates of not inappreciative nor un- 
friendly authorities, we may understand why it was 
that during his lifetime, Paracelsus seemed to have 
so little support among the physicians of his day. It 

^ Ibid., pp. 14f . 

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is not perhaps too much to say that the doctrines 
which he asserted and opposed to the accepted dog- 
matic medicine owed much of their present interest 
to certain truths contained in them which were 
rather intuitively apprehended than clearly con- 
ceived by Paracelsus himself. As knowledge grew 
and facts developed, these foreshadowings which 
the vision of the Swiss physician perceived rather 
than demonstrated, gained in authority and respect. 
It required a later experience to comprehend how 
much of brilliant suggestion, and prevision of the 
future methods of science were contained in the 
thought of Paracelsus. 

So while we accord Paracelsus our full sym- 
pathy in his unequal battle, we should not misjudge 
nor too severely condemn the conservative profes- 
sion of his day, — that they did not recognize in him 
a true prophet of medical progress, but rejected him 
as a dangerous heretic and mischievous agitator. 

Nor, on the other hand, need we be surprised 
that his native force, eloquence, and the logic and 
reasonableness of much of his teaching — indeed 
perhaps even the very imaginative and mystical 
philosophy by which he sought to formulate his the- 
ories of medicine — should have had a gradually in- 
creasing influence, so that in spite of the fact that 
during his lifetime he had few friends and sup- 
porters, yet after his death, and as his many writ- 
ings found their way into print, his work laid the 
foundation for a very material victory for many of 
the aims for which he had fought. 

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Especially it should not be forgotten that, though 
he seemed to struggle in vain against overwhelming 
odds during his lifetime — that nevertheless he was 
largely, if not indeed mainly, instrumental in shat- 
tering the confidence of a coming generation in the 
sacredness and sufficiency of the ancient Greek and 
Arabian authorities. The remarkable vogue which 
his writings enjoyed when they were finally printed, 
the violent conflicts that arose in the profession over 
the theories and practice he advanced, and which 
resulted in many victories for the Paracelsans even 
in the universities, the strongholds of medical con- 
servatism : all evidence that there was great vitality 
and influence in the ideas of Paracelsus. 

The contributions of Paracelsus to medical sci- 
ence, and his efforts to instil into students and prac- 
titioners of medicine higher ideals of the mission 
and duty of the physician will be considered more 
in detail in later chapters. But first let us briefly 
estimate his place and influence as chemist. 

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AS previously mentioned, Paracelsus was in youth 
L and early manhood a student of the chemical 
processes and theories prevalent in his time— par- 
ticularly experienced in the operations of mining 
and metallurgy of the region in which his early life 
was spent. To this experience he evidently added 
by study of, the principal authorities upon alchem- 
ical knowledge of the time, as references or allusions 
to them are to be found in his own writings. 

The chemists of the period were of two classes : 
artisans employed in the mines or the working of 
metals, in pottery, glass, dyeing or similar indus- 
tries; or mystics striving by obscure and occult 
means to transmute the baser metals into gold or 
silver, or to discover the elixir that should prolong 
life or endow its possessor with perennial youth. 

The practical chemists or the artisans in chem- 
ical industry were in the early decades of book- 
printing not addicted to publishing. Their trade 
recipes and manuals doubtless were in use in the 
form of manuscripts for their own use but not 
usually issued for public information. The impor- 
tant pioneer authors in technical chemistry, Birin- 

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guccio, George Agricola, Bernard Palissy, were also 
of the period of Paracelsus, though their works 
important to the history of chemical science did not 
appear in print until after the death of Paracelsus. 

The principal chemical authorities extant during 
his life were the early Greek philosophers, of whose 
works Pliny was the most important compiler, and 
the works written by or attributed to — for many 
were apocryphal — the Arabians Gheber and Avi- 
cenna, the Spaniard (?) Arnaldus de Villanova, the 
German Albertus Magnus, the Englishman Roger 
Bacon, and the Spaniard Raimundus Lullus (or 

As far as the chemical knowledge contained in 
these authors is concerned, it appears from the 
studies of M. Berthelot that they contained very 
little not known to Egyptian or Greek writers of 
the early centuries of our era. The metaphysical 
philosophy and mysticism of later Greek and Egyp- 
tian chemistry had, however, from Chaldean, Ara- 
bian and other Oriental sources been added to and 
elaborated to such a degree that the chemical writ- 
ings of the above authors or those written under 
their names were fantastic, obscure and often in- 
tentionally incomprehensible. 

It is evident from the writings of Paracelsus 
that he was familiar with the chemical processes 
in use in the mines and metallurgical laboratories 
of the country in which he lived. His knowledge 
of the chemistry of his time was extensive and well 
assimilated. It is also evident that he was familiar 

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with and influenced by the often fantastic specu- 
lative theories of LuUus, Arnaldus de Villanova and 
others respecting the nature of matter and the ori- 
gins of metals. 

Paracelsus wrote no treatises devoted exclu- 
sively to chemistry or alchemy. The few which 
appeared under his name and which answer such 
description were forgeries — as judged both by in- 
ternal evidence and by the evidence of Huser, who, 
while including them in his collection because they 
had been so published, characterized them as apoc- 

Nevertheless, in his other writings upon medi- 
cine, surgery or natural philosophy, he includes 
much chemistry, particularly in the books entitled 
De miner alihus, De natura rerum, Archidoxa. In 
this unsystematically arranged and scattered mate- 
rial are recorded many facts not found in earlier 
writings, and operations more clearly described than 
previously. One historically important theory, that 
of the three elements {tria prima) — Sulphur, Mer- 
cury and Salt — as constituting principles of all other 
substances, seems to have been original with him. 
though using earlier speculations as material for its 

Historians of chemistry have generally recog- ( 
nized the important influence of Paracelsus upon the 
development of chemical science in emphasizing its 
importance to medicine and pharmacology. 

Strangely enough, however, it was just in rela- 
tion to this, his most certain influence upon the de- 

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velopment of natural science that his reputation for 
knowledge, originality, and indeed for honesty, was 
called in question for more than two centuries. The 
occasion for this was the appearance of some clever 
literary forgeries which appeared to place Paracel- 
sus in the position of a plagiarist and to deprive him 
of his claim as an initiator of the era of chemical 
medicine. Huser's collection of the philosophical 
and medical works of Paracelsus, which included, 
to be sure, much of doubtful or spurious origin, ap- 
peared in 1 589- 1 59 1. 

About ten years later there began to appear a 
series of treatises by an alleged Benedictine monk 
— Basilius Valentinus. The publisher of these or 
at least of the earlier ones was a certain Johann 
Tholde. Tholde claimed to have discovered and 
translated into German the Latin manuscript. These 
works, especially the Triumphal Chariot of Anti- 
mony, attracted immediate and wide-spread atten- 
tion because of their real chemical importance at 
the time. The work mentioned was a real contri- 
bution to the chemistry of antimony compounds. 
The inference from the text was that they were 
written early in the fifteenth century, therefore a 
century before Paracelsus. 

As the appearance of this work occurred during 
the period of the greatest popularity of the works 
of Paracelsus, it was soon noticed that there was 
a remarkable similarity both in matter and form 
of presentation between much contained in Basil 
Valentine and in Paracelsus. Like Paracelsus, Basil 

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Valentine had abused the physicians and their 
authorities; the mineral remedies used by Para- 
celsus were here also advocated. Even the three 
primary principles Sulphur, Mercury, Salt were 
found in Basil Valentine. The chemical facts were 
often more clearly described than in Paracelsus. 
In short, it was evident to critical minds that a ■ 
plagiarism existed. To be sure, no previous writer 
had ever mentioned or quoted a Basil Valentine. 
Nor in fact were the alleged original manuscripts 
placed in evidence. Paracelsus, if he were the 
plagiarist, must then have had a monopoly in his 
access to the works of Basilius. There were indeed 
writers of the period who expressed disbelief in the 
authenticity of the find. Generally, however, these 
came to be accepted as genuine. 

From certain passages in the writings, however, 
it became evident that they could not have been 
written as early in the fifteenth century as alleged 
by the supposed author, for allusions to metal used 
in type-founding, and to the French disease, made 
it plain that their date could not be earlier than the 
end of the fifteenth century. Nevertheless, it be- 
came quite generally accepted that there had existed 
a writer who wrote under the name of Basilius Val- 
entinus (though no record of such a name could be 
found in the register of Benedictines), that he lived 
before Paracelsus, and that therefore Paracelsus 
had stolen his chemistry largely from the supposed 
monk. It may seem strange that such an hypothesis 
became so easily accepted, but it should be noted 

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that at the time a fierce warfare was in progress 
between the conservative medical profession and the 
university faculties on the one side, and the rapidly 
increasing revolutionary party of the Paracelsan 
school, on the other. ^. 

Paracelsus with the more influential and gen- 
erally more scholarly classes was a name despised 
and hated. Plagiarism was to be expected from the 
leader and founder of the new school with its vag- 
aries, fantasies and charlatanry. Against this pre- 
sumption the champions of Paracelsus fought at a 
disadvantage. Eventually also certain statements 
crept into literature which seemed to confirm the 
facts of the existence of the alleged Basilius, and so 
history finally accepted him as a writer previous to 
Paracelsus. The reinvestigation of this problem 
may be said to have commenced with the eminent 
historian of chemistry H. Kopp, who, beginning 
by accepting the conventional hypothesis, after half 
a century's work in the early history of chemistry 
ended by stating that in his judgment the Basilius 
Valentinus literature was a forgery or series of 
forgeries of the beginning of the seventeenth cen- 
tury, and that in all probability Tholde the publisher 
was himself the author.^ 

Since Kopp's time, other competent students 
have contributed to the solution of the problem — 
Sudhoff, Ferguson, Lasswitz, and it may now be 
accepted as certain that no writings under the name 
of Basilius Valentinus had appeared nor existed 

1 H. Kopp, Die Alchemic, Heidelberg, 1885, pp. 29f. 

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either before or during the lifetime of Paracelsus 
nor indeed prior to the printing of his collected 
works. The works published and presumably writ- 
ten by Tholde therefore drew not only from Para- 
celsus but doubtless also from Agricola and perhaps 
from still later writers.'^ 

The works of two other alleged authors upon 
chemistry, Joh. and Isaac HoUandus, have also been 
shown to be post-Paracelsan and were literary for- 
geries of about the same period as the Basilius lite- 

By the relegation of these writings to their true 
period, the relative importance of the chemical lit- 
erature of Paracelsus is greatly enhanced. It is to 
him that we must turn for the initiative to medical 
chemistry as well as for its propaganda; to him 
also the credit is due for the first announcement of 
many interesting though by no means epoch-making 
chemical facts. Through this revision of history 
also Paracelsus is freed from the odium of plagiar- 
ism and consequent lack of originality which in the 
minds of the majority of medical or chemical stu- 
dents has so long attached to him. 

The interest of Paracelsus in chemistry was on 
the whole practical, though his adopted philosophy 
and the need he felt to replace the Galenic and Aris- 

2 For a more detailed account of the Basil Valentine forgery cf. 
Stillman, Popular Science Monthly, December, 1912, "Basil Valen- 
time." A communication from the eminent historian of early medi- 
cine and student of Paracelsus literature. Dr. Karl Sudhoff, to the 
writer in Jan., 1913, states that after looking through many thousands 
of medieval manuscripts in recent decades, there is absolutely no doubt 
possible that nothing like Basil Valentine or Joh. and Is. Hollandus 
existed previous to Hohenheim. 

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totelian theories by new ones leads him often into 
theorizing. And to some extent these theories 
doubtless influenced his practice. Thus in the prep- 
aration and purification of his arcana or simple ex- 
tracts or principles of plants and minerals, he seems 
to have followed as a working hypothesis, his neo- 
Platonic concept of the spiritual sympathetic rela- 
tions of all things in the universe toward man and 
his health. Thus if he could free the real active 
spirit or principle of the plant from grosser admix- 
tures, it should be more efficacious. So he rejected 
the extremely complex decoctions of herbs of the 
customary pharmacopoeia for his simpler arcana. 

It is by no means necessary to assume that all 
these new remedies he introduced were originated 
by him. Many of them were, though not authorized 
by the faculties, in use as popular remedies in certain 
localities at least, or used by irregular practitioners.* 
Thus mercury preparations mixed with fats had 
been introduced for external use in certain treat - 
merits by Italian physicians previous to Paracelsus. 
It is nevertheless true that in the extension of the 
pharmacopoeia to a great number of preparations 
requiring the operations and methods of chemistry 
for their preparation he exerted his greatest in- 
fluence upon chemical activity and development. Not 
only mercury and antimony preparations but prep- 
arations of lead, arsenic, copper and iron found a 

* It is probable that the preparation of medicines by distillation as 
given in the work on the distillation of simples by J. Brunswyk, 
Strassburg, 1500, was familiar to Paracelsus. Cf. Stillman, ScienMc 
Monthly, 1918, pp. 169f. 

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place among his remedies, opium also seems to have 
entered into his practice quite largely, and the word 
laudanum seems to have originated with him — 
whether or no his "laudanum'' were an opium prep- 
aration, as on that point the doctors disagree. 

The name of zinc first appears in the writings 
of Paracelsus, though that he therefore first named 
it, is not to be inferred. It was probably at least 
locally in use in mining regions in which he had 

"For that is a metal which fire may subdue and 
which can be made into an instrument by man. Such 
namely are gold, silver, iron, copper, lead, tin. For 
these are generally known as metals. Now there 
are some metals which are not recognized in the 
writings of the ancient philosophers nor commonly 
recognized as such and yet are metals ; as Zincken 
[zinc], Kobaltet [?], which may be hammered and 
forged in the fire."' 

"There is also another metal called Zincken .... 
This is not generally known, it is in this sense a 
metal of a special kind and from another seed [i. e., 
origin]. Yet many metals adulterate [alloy] with it. 
This metal is itself fusible for it is from three fusible 
elements [i. e., the three primary elements], but it 
has no malleability but only fusibility. And its 
color is different from the colors of others, so that 
it is not like the other metals as they grow. And 
it is such a metal that its ultima materia is not yet 
known to me. For it is nearly as strange in its 

8 op. fol, II, 134, "De mineralibus." 

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properties as quicksilver. It admits of no admix- 
ture and does not endure metallic manufacture, but 
stands by itself."* 

Mercury (quicksilver) Paracelsus did not con- 
sider a true metal. Though of "metallic nature," 
it could not be hammered or cast, lacked malleabil- 
ity, but it is of metallic nature because "by chemical 
art it can be brought to malleability and fashioning" 
(doubtless meaning in its alloys or amalgams). 

The first mention of bismuth is sometimes, though 
incorrectly, ascribed to Paracelsus, as it is mentioned 
by Agricola in his Bermannus, printed in 1530, and 
even by a still earlier anonymous writer.*^ 

Another observation credited to Paracelsus is 
the distinction between "alums" and "vitriols" in 
ascribing to the former an earth as base, and to the 
latter a metal. This was for that time a logical dis- 
crimination, for it was Sir Humphrey Davy who 
first demonstrated that the so-called "earths" could 
be reduced to metals hitherto unknown. The term 
"reduction" (reduciren) as applied to the obtaining 
of metals from their ores is also said to have been 
first introduced into chemical literature by Para- 

Many other processes not new are described 
by Paracelsus, and his descriptions are frequently 
^. straightforward and with none of the intentional 
mystification of the great bulk of alchemical writ- 
ings of the time or of many even in the century fol- 

^Ibid., II, 137. 

'^Cf. Agricola, De re metallica (translated by H. C. and L. H. 
Hoover), London, 1912, p. 433, n. 

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lowing. That they are not always intelligible is 
true, but this is rather from the use of terms whose 
meaning is not now clear, or from careless and hasty 
writing or editing. The following is an illustration 
of his better style. It describes the preparation of 
white-lead from lead and vinegar and carbon di- 
oxide gas. 

"The mortification [from morSy death] of lead 
consists in converting it into cerussa which is also 
called Bleiweiss [white-lead]. Its preparation is in 
two ways, one in medicine, the other in alchemy. 
Its preparation in medicine is thus — that you hang 
it [the lead] in thin sheets over a sharp wine- 
vinegar in a glazed pot. The pot is then well stop- 
pered so that no spirits may volatilize, and set in 
warm ashes, or in winter behind the stove: then 
you will find in ten to fourteen days good white-lead 
adhering to the sheets, which you may remove with 
a hare's foot, and again hang the sheets, and do this 
until you have white-lead enough. The other prep- 
aration of white-lead — in alchemy — is like this ex- 
cept that in the vinegar much of the best and finest 
salmiac is dissolved. That gives a fine and subtle 

By the first of the two methods mentioned the 
carbon dioxide gas necessary for the formation of 
the carbonate must come from the fermentation of 
the vinegar. This makes a slow process to be sure. 
In the second process, with the addition of the sal- 
miac, the sal-ammoniac as then prepared often con- 

« op. fol, I, 893f. "De natura rerum." 

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• Y02-* • '•' PARACELSUS. 

••: •••••:: t :. 
.••: ; ••• • ••• .' 

sisted of or contained ammonium carbonate which 
(/ with the acetic acid of the vinegar liberated carbon 
dioxide in greater quantity than from the fermen- 
tation of the vinegar alone. 

With respect to his theoretical views on chem- 
istry, we should naturally expect to find them fanci- 
ful and unscientific, and we are not disappointed. 
- They are based upon the theories of his predecessors 
with such changes as commend themselves to his 
own preconceptions. Thus he does not deny the 
possibility of transmutation of the metals. But his 
practical sense rejects the search for it as a waste 
of valuable energy otherwise more profitably em- 

"Many haA^e said of alchemy that it is for making 
gold and silver. But here such is not the aim but 
to consider only what virtue and power may lie in 

"Not as they say — alchemy is to make gold, 
make silver: here the purpose is to make arcana 
and to direct them Against diseases."* 

From the point of view of the history of devel- 
opment of ideas in physical or chemical science it is 
^ interesting to find that our word ^a^ which was first 
formulated by Van Helmont as a generalization to 
include the various elastk, fluids which we now call 
by that name, finds its suggestion in Paracelsus.* 
Though suggested by Van Helmont the term gas 

^ op. foL, I, 149, "Fragmenta medica." 

8 Op. fol., I, 220,. "Paragranum." 

• See Franz Strunz, /. B. van Helmont, Leipsic and Vienna, 1907, 
p. 30, and E. O. von Lippmann, Chemiker-Zeitung, XXXIV, p. 1. 

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was slow in making its way. It will be remembered 
that the celebrated work of Joseph Priestley in the 
eighteenth century bore the title of Different Kinds 
of Air, Van Helmont (1577-1644), who was 
strongly influenced by Paracelsus and one of his 
strong defenders, though differing from him in his 
views in many respects, tells us that he derives the 
word gas from the Greek chaos.^^ This term chaos, 
however, is used repeatedly by Paracelsus as a gen- 
eralized term for air, and certainly was familiar to 
so thorough a student of Paracelsus as Van Hel- 
mont manifestly was. 

Thus Paracelsus says, **And they are born from 
the elements, .... as for instance out of the element 
terra (earth) its species, and out of the element 
aqua (water) its species, out of the element ignis 
(fire) its species, out of the element chaos its spe- 

"Thus all superfluous waters run into their ele- 
ment called the Sea (mare) ; whatever is terrestrial 
(earthy) returns to its element called Earth (terra) ; 
what is igneous into the element Fire (ignis) ; and 
what is aerial (aereum) that runs into its element 

"The elements in man remain indestructible. As 
they have come to him, so they come from him. 
What he has received from the earth goes back to 
the earth and remains such so long as heaven and 

j® J. B. van Helmont, Opera Omnia, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1682, 
p. 69 (29). 

" Op, fol, I, 269, "Labyrinthus medicorum." 

12 op. foL, I, 291, "Das Buch von den tartarischen Kranckheiten." 

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earth stand ; what he has in him that is water that 
becomes water again, and no one can prevent it; 
his chaos goes again into the air [Luft], his fire- 
to the heat of the sun."'' 

Thus "chaos" used by Paracelsus for air became 
"gas" to his disciple Van Helmont, though even in 
Van Helmont's time the real differences between 
gases were so little understood that the value of the 
generalized term was not appreciated at the time. 
It required another century of accumulated facts to 
make it necessary. 

It would be interesting to know if Paracelsus 
really discriminated between air and the vapor of 
water, or other gases. The following passage is 
not conclusive, being capable of different interpreta- 
tions. It is nevertheless of interest. 

"When, from the element water, air [Luft] is 
to be separated, that takes place by boiling, and so 
soon as it boils, the air separates from the water 
and takes with it the lightest substance of the water, 
and in so much as the water is diminished so accord- 
ing to its proportion and quantity is the air also di- 

So strong an adherent as Paracelsus of the neo- 
Platonic notions of the interrelation of all things in 
the universe, would naturally be interested in the 
prevalent theories of the nature of matter and of 
its changes. That the causes which influence health 
and disease might be understood it was necessary 

13 Chir. Bucher, etc., p. 378, "Von offenen Schaden.'* 

1* Op. fol., I, 791, "Archidoxa — De separationibus elementorum." 

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that the nature of chemical changes, and the con- 
stitution of matter should be understood. 

Hindu, Greek, Arab and later philosophers had 
speculated upon the nature of matter with the result 
of the final crystallization in medieval philosophy 
of the theory of the four elements. Fire, Air, Earth 
and Water. Upon this was founded the Galenic 
doctrine of the four humors in the human organism, 
and the theory had become in the medieval Aristo- 
telianism petrified into infallible dogma. 

Medieval alchemists had as the result of the 
study of metallurgical chemistry, of observations 
upon the occurrence of the metals in the earth and 
the changes to which they are subject, from time to 
time developed certain independent notions of the 
nature of matter. The strange properties of mer- 
cury and of its alloys with other metals, the occur- 
rence of sulphur in many ores and its appearance 
or disappearance in the treatment of these ores, had 
given rise to speculations as to the possible relations 
of these substancies to the growth or development 
of the metals in the earth. From such phenomena 
and from the peculiar properties of many alloys of 
the common metals arose doubtless the hopes of 
transmutation of base metals into purer or more 
precious metals. 

Raimundus LuUus and other early alchemists 
had assumed therefore that mercury and sulphur 
were present in all metals. In the literature of the 
Middle Ages or early Renaissance the mercury or 

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mercuries, and the sulphur or sulphurs were not the 
elements sulphur and mercury as we understand 
them but were supposed to be substances related to 
these elements and capable of influencing the colors, 
fusibility, behavior toward fire, etc., of the metals 
of which they were constituent principles. There 
was no agreement among writers of the time, how- 
ever, as to the properties of these elementary sub- 
stances, nor as to their role or function in the metals 
- or their ores. 

Upon this vague and variable foundation, this 
inheritance from. the alchemists, Paracelsus con- 
structed his more comprehensive and consistent the- 
ory of the three elements. Sulphur, Mercury and 
Salt, which was destined to become the most influen- 
tial theory of the constitution of matter until grad- 
J" ually replaced by the phlogiston theory in the eight- 
eenth century. 

Paracelsus recognized the four Aristotelian ele- 
ments or principles — Earth, Air, Water, Fire — ^but 
considered them also as consisting of the three pri- 
mary elements {tria prima). To his three elements 
he assigned more definite and better characterized 
functions than had previously been recognized. Sul- 
phur was the combustible principle in all substances, 
not merely in the metals; Mercury that which im- 
parted the property of liquidity, or fusibility, and 
volatility; and Salt that which determined the non- 
volatility and incombustibility of substances. 

"For all that fumes and disappears in vapors is 

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Mercury ; all that burns and is consumed is Sulphur ; 
all that is ashes is also Salt/'" 

These three constituents of all matter are not, 
however, to be understood as answering to the defi- 
nition of elementary substances as at present ac- 
cepted. Like the Aristotelian elements, they also 
typified qualities or principles. Thus, Sulphur was 
not a substance of constant and invariable proper- 
ties entering into the constitution of other sub- 
stances, but varied with the substance which con- 
tained it. To use the words of Paracelsus — "For 
as many as there are kinds of fruits — so many kinds , 
are there of Sulphur, Salt, and so many of Mercury. ^^ 
A different Sulphur in gold, another in silver, an- 
other in iron, another in lead, zinc, etc. Also a 
different one in sapphire, another in the emerald, 
another in ruby, chrysolites, amethysts, magnets, etc. 
Also another in stones, flint, salts, spring-waters 
[fontibiis'], etc. And not only so many kinds of 
Sulphur but also so many kinds of Salt — different 

ones in metals, gems, etc And the same with 

Mercuries, different ones in the metals, others in 
gems, and as many as there are species — so many 
Mercuries. And yet they are only three things. Of 
one nature is Sulphur, of one nature is Salt, of one 
nature Mercury. And further they are still more 
divided, so that there is not only one kind of gold 
but many kinds of gold — just as there is not only - 
one kind of pear or apple but many kinds. There 

" op, fol, I, 898, **De natura rerum." 

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fore there are just as many different kinds of Sul- 
phurs of gold, Salts of gold, Mercuries of gold.'"' 

We should therefore consider the three elemen- 
tary principles of Paracelsus and his followers 
rather as generalizations of certain properties in- 
herent in and common to matter, than as elements 
in the modern sense. The importance that this 
theory possessed for his time was that it was more 
closely related to phenomena observed in chemical 
experimentation than the concept of the Aristotelian 
elements. Consequently it became the dominant hy- 
pothesis as to the nature of matter until in the seven- 
teenth century the keen critical analysis of Robert 
Boyle laid bare its inadequacy and unscientific basis. 
Boyle indeed it was who first clearly enunciated the 
modern definition of an element as a substance which 
cannot by our efforts be resolved into simpler con- 
stituents, though he did not venture to apply this 
definition to any particular substance. 

, \ The great service of Paracelsus to chemistry 

/ was not in any epoch-making discovery nor in any 

\ / development of theory of permanent value, but in 
/ opening a new and great field for chemical activity 
A in the application of chemistry to the preparation 
of mineral and vegetable remedies. He not only 
put into use many known chemical substances in his 
practice, but he advocated insistently and forcefully 
the necessity of the knowledge of chemistry to the 
physician, and emphasized the value of experiment 

i« Op. fol„ II, 132. "De mineralibus." 

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as against dependency upon the records of the an- 

"But because you are ignorant of alchemy you 
are also ignorant of the mysteries of nature. Do 
you think that because you have Avicenna and Sa- 
vonarola, Valescus and Vigo that you therefore 

know everything ? That is but a beginning That 

which Pliny, Dioscorides, etc., have written of herbs 
they have not tested, they have learned it from noble 
persons who knew much about their virtues and 
then with their smooth chatter have made books 
about it ... . Test it and it is true. But you do not 
know it is true — you cannot carry it out, you cannot 
put to proof your author's writings. You who boast 
yourselves Doctores are but beginners. 

"What do Hermes and Archelaus attribute to 
vitriol? — Great virtue, and it is true such virtue is 
in it. But you do not know wherein it lies, neither 
in the green nor in the blue vitriol, and yet you call 
yourselves masters of natural things and do not 
know that ! You have read so that you know what 
is there written but you can make no use of it. • 

"What do other chemists and philosophers say 
about the powers of mercury ? Much indeed and it 
is true. But you do not know how to prove it true. 
.... You do nothing but read, 'that is in this, this 
is in that, that is black and this is green — and fur- 
ther than that I can (God help me) do nothing, 
thus I find it written.' Do you think I have laid my 
foundation [of medicine] without reason in the arts 
of alchemy? Tell me who are to be trusted in the 

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knowledge of the virtue of things in nature, those 
who have written and not known how to make proof, 
or those who have the knowledge to make proof 
— but have not written? Is it not true that Pliny 
has never shown any proofs? What did he write 
then ? — That which he had learned from the alche- 
mists. And so you if you do not know and recog- 
nize who these are — ^you are but a lame physician.''^^ 

Another illustration of his argument for the 
value of experiment and his criticism of those who 
depended solely upon the ancient authorities is the 
following (he is discussing the preparation of medi- 
cinal principles) : 

"The separation of those things that grow from 
the earth and are easily combustible, as all fruits, 
herbs, flowers, leaves, grass, roots, woods, etc., takes 
place in many ways. Thus by distillation is sepa- 
rated from them first the phlegm [i. e., a watery 
distillate] ; then the mercury [i. e., volatile or gas- 
eous products] and the oily portion; third its resin; 
fourth its sulphur [that which burns] ; and fifth its 
salt [non-volatile and uncombustible, or the ash]. 
When this separation has taken place by chemical 
art, there are found many splendid and powerful 
remedies for internal and external use. 

"But because the laziness of the supposed phy- 
sicians has so obtained the upper hand and their 
art serves only for display, I am not surprised that 
such preparations are quite ignored and that char- 
coal [i. e., fuel] remains cheap. As to this I will 

17 Op, fol, I, pp. 221f, "Paragranum." 

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say that if the smith could work his metals without 
the use of fire, as these so-called physicians prepare 
their medicines without fire, there would be danger 
that the charcoal-burners would all be ruined and 
compelled to flee. 

"But I praise the spagyric [chemical] physi- 
cians, for they do not consort with loafers or go 
about gorgeous in satins, silks and velvets, gold 
rings on their fingers, silver daggers hanging at 
their sides, and white gloves on their hands, but they 
tend their work at the fire patiently day and night. 
They do not go promenading, but seek their recrea- 
tion in the laboratory, wear plain leathern dress 
and aprons of hide upon which to wipe their hands, 
thrust their fingers amongst the coals, into dirt and 
rubbish and not into golden rii^gs- They are sooty 
and dirty like the smiths and charcoal-burners, and 
hence make little show, make not many words and 
gossip with their patients, do not highly praise their 
own remedies, for they well know that the work)// 
must praise the master, not the master his work.* 
They well know that words and chatter do not help 
the sick nor cure them. Therefore they let such 
things alone and busy themselves with working 
with their fires and learning the steps of alchemy. 
These are distillation, solution, putrefaction, extrac- 
tion, calirination, reverberation, sublimation, fixa- , 
tion, separation, reduction, coagulation, tinction, 

This opening-up of a new field of chemical activ- 
es op. foU I, 906, "De natiira rerum." 

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ity which promised so much of importance in its 
development and which touched directly upon the 
field of the practice of medicine, the most important 
field of natural science at that period, and the ap- 
peals of Paracelsus to abandon the search for the 
transmutation of metals and other vain goals of 
the alchemists, met almost immediate response 
among those students who were interested in the 
study of nature — and there were many such — and 
it was indeed from the chemists that the most en- 
thusiastic and productive followers of Paracelsus 
arose. A new and important impulse had been 
imparted to chemistry, so that in spite of the fact 
that no great chemical discoveries or generaliza- 
tions can be attributed to Paracelsus he may yet 
-with justice be called a reformer of chemistry. 

It is interesting to contrast the work, of Para- 
celsus with that of his great German contemporary, 
Georgius Agricola (Georg Bauer), 1494-1555. 
Agricola was also medically trained as well as thor- 
oughly versed in mining and metallurgy. 

His descriptions of mining and of metallurgical 
and chemical facts and processes are systematic, 
orderly and generally clear and comprehensible. 
His theory was based upon the prevalent Aristo- 
telian ideas. His published work upon mining and 
metallurgy possesses more permanent inteiiest from 
a scientific point of view than the writings of Para- 
celsus because he confined himself to the task of 
presenting the established facts and processes of his 
specialty in clear, detailed description, so that it 

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might be of use for others who should follow in the 
same line of work. Many chemical facts and pro- 
cesses are mentioned that appear also in Paracelsus, 
but as with Paracelsus, so with Agricola there is 
no pretension that these are original with the author. 

It is interesting to note that neither one of these 
two men — the most important of their century in 
chemistry — seems to have been aware of the exist- 
ence of the other. Agricola in Saxony and Para- 
celsus in Switzerland and Austria possessed many 
interests and much knowledge in common, but Agric- 
ola's great work appeared after the death of Para- 
celsus, while those works of Paracelsus which con- 
tain most of his chemistry did not appear in print 
until after the death of Agricola. It is therefore not 
surprising that neither knew of the other. Agricola's 
great work De re metallica remains a classic in 
technical chemistry, while Paracelsus has left little 
that is of permanent value to chemical science. But 
the reform of chemistry was not the main aim 
of the efforts of Paracelsus, to him that was but 
subordinate, to his great ambition, the revolution of 

Yet the influence of Paracelsus upon chemistry 
was epoch-making. By pointing out a rational and 
promising field for chemical activity and by his own 
successful application of chemically prepared reme- 
dies he inaugurated a movement which has con- 
tinued without interruption and with increasing im- 
portance to the present day. 

From his time on a new vitality was infused 

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into chemical thought and activity. Instead of the 
passive acceptance of ancient authorities and tra- 
ditions, there began a struggle for progress through 
experiments and their interpretation, often indeed 
unscientific and illogical at first; nevertheless, only 
from such beginnings of independent thought and 
initiative was the scientific spirit to be developed. 

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WHILE the specific contributions of Paracelsus 
to chemical knowledge are comparatively 
unimportant and yet his influence as a reformer 
beyond question, in medical science the opposite 
appears more nearly true. 

There appears to be little doubt as to the real 
value of many of his contributions to medical knowl- 
edge and practice, while competent authorities differ 
widely as to the extent and character of his in- 
fluence upon medical progi"ess. It may be admitted 
that his vigorous assaults upon the degenerate Ga- 
lenism of his day were effective in arousing an 
attitude of criticism and questioning which assisted 
greatly the influence of other workers whose labors 
were laying less sensationally but more soundly the 
foundation-stones of scientific medicine. 

Vesalius, often called the founder of the modern 
science of anatomy, and Pare, the "Father of Sur- 
gery,'' were both contemporaries of Paracelsus, 
though their great works appeared only after the 
death of Paracelsus. The Greater Surgery of Para- 

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celsus had appeared nearly thirty years before 
Fare's classical work and had passed through sev- 
eral editions, and it is said that Pare acknowledged 
his indebtedness to Paracelsus in the Preface to the 
first edition of his work.^ 

Admitting that none of the medical treatises of 
Paracelsus has the scientific value of the works of 
his great contemporaries, it should nevertheless not 
be forgotten that his work may have had an influ- 
ence for progress in his own time much greater than 
its present value in the light of later knowledge. 
Dr. Sudhoff records some nineteen editions of the 
Greater Surgery by the close of the sixteenth cen- 
tury, in the German, French, Latin and Dutch lan- 
guages, and other works of his shared in somewhat 
less degree in this popularity. 

The disapproval and hostility of the universities 
and the profession toward Paracelsus should not be 
permitted to mislead us into underrating his influ- 
ence, as it may be recalled that both Vesalius and 
Pare also suflfered from this hostility. Vesalius was 
denounced by his former teacher Sylvius as an in- 
sane heretic and his great work on anatomy was 
denounced to the Inquisition. Though he was not 
condemned by that body his professorship at Padua 
became untenable, and he was forced to return to 
his native city Brussels and is said to have become 
a hypochondriac as the result of his persecutions. 

Pare was more successful in maintaining his 
professional position through official support, though 

1 Cf. Stoddart. The Life of Paracelsus, p. 65. 

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the faculty of the University of Paris protested his 
tenure of office. 

The history of medical science and discovery has 
been the subject of more thorough study than most 
of the natural sciences, and a number of competent 
critics of early medical history have estimated the 
place of Paracelsus in the development of various 
departments of that science. From such sources 
may be best summarized the contributions of Para- 

Thus with respect to surgery, Dr. Edmund Owen 
in the Encyclopaedia Britannica (eleventh edition, 
article "Surgery") says: 

"The fourteenth and fifteenth centuries are al- 
most entirely without interest for surgical history. 
The dead level of tradition is broken first by two 
men of originality and genius, P. Paracelsus ( 1493- 
1541) and Pare, and by the revival of anatomy at . 

the hands of Andreas Vesalius (15 14- 1564) and Ga- 
briel Fallopius (1523- 1 562), professors at Padua. 
Apart from the mystical form in which much of his 
teaching was cast, Paracelsus has great merits as 
a reformer of surgical practice .... It is not, how- 
ever, as an innovator in operative surgery, but 
rather as a direct observer of natural processes, 
that Paracelsus is distinguished. His description ] 

of 'hospital gangrene,' for example, is perfectly y 

true to nature ; his numerous observations on syphi- i 

lis are also sound and sensible; and he was the first \ 

to point out the connection between cretinism of the 
offspring and goiter of the parents." 

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So also Proksch,^ the historian of syphilitic dis- 
eases, credits Paracelsus with the recognition of 
the inherited character of this disease and states 
that there are indeed but few and subordinate regu- 
lations in modern syphilis therapy which Paracelsus 
has not enunciated. Iwan Bloch also attributes 
the first observation of the hereditary character of 
that disease to Paracelsus.' That Paracelsus de- 
voted so much attention to the consideration of these 
diseases was evidently made a subject of contemp- 
tuous criticism by his opponents, as may be inferred 
from his replies to them in the Paragranum :* 

"Why, then, do you clowns [Gugelfritzen] abuse 
my writings, which you can in no way refute other 
than by saying that I know nothing to write about 
but of luxus and venere? Is that a trifling thing? 
or in your opinion to be despised ? Because I have 
understood that all open wounds may be converted 
into the French disease [i. e., syphilis], which is the 
worst disease in the whole world — no worse has 
ever been known — which spares nobody and attacks 
the highest personages the most severely — shall I 
therefore be despised? Because I bring help to 
princes, lords and peasants and relate the errors 
that I have found, and because this has resulted in 
good and high reputation for me, you would throw 
me down into the mire and not spare the sick. For 

2 Quoted by Baas, GeschichtUche Entwickelung des drztlichen 
Standes, p. 210. 

8 Neuburger and Page!, Handbuch der Geschichte der Medizin, 
III, p. 403. 

* Op, fol, I, 201f. 

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it is they and not I whom you would cast into the 

Dr. Bauer'^ calls attention to the rational protest 
of Paracelsus against the excessive blood-letting in 
vogue at the time, his objections being based on the 
hypothesis that the process disturbed the harmony 
of the system, and upon the argument that the blood 
could not be purified by merely lessening its quantity. 

*Tor the healing art and for pharmacology in 
connection therewith,'' says Dr. E. Schaer in his 
monograph on the history of pharmacology,® "re- 
form in the first instance attaches to the name of 
Theophrastus Paracelsus whose much contested im- 
portance for the rebirth of medicine in the period 
of the Reformation has been in recent times finally 
established in a favorable direction by a master work 
of critical investigation of sources. . . .But however 
much overzealous adherents of the brilliant physi- 
cian may have misunderstood him and have gone at 
times beyond the goal he established, nevertheless 
the historical consideration of pharmacology will 
not hesitate to yield to Paracelsus the merit of the 
effective repression of the medieval polypharmacy 
often as meaningless as it was superstitious, and to 
credit him with having effectively called attention^ 
to the pharmacological value of many metallic prep- ' 
arations and analogous chemical remedies." 

Dr. Max Neuburger^ thus summarizes the claims 

^ Geschichte der Aderldsse, p. 147. 

« Neuburger and Pagel, op, cit., IJ, pp. 565f. 

T Ibid,, II, pp. 36ff. 

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of Paracelsus to a place Jn the history of the useful 
advances in medicine : 

**Under the banner of utilitarianism Paracelsus 
rendered the practical art of healing so many ser- 
vices that in this respect his preeminent historical 
importance cannot be doubted. In bringing chem- 
istry to a higher plane and in making the new ac- 
cessory branch useful to medicine, in comprehending 
the value of dietetics, in teaching the use of a great 
number of mineral substances (iron, lead, copper, 
antimony, mercury), and on the other hand in teach- 
ing the knowledge of their injurious actions, in 
paving the way to the scientific investigation of 
mineral waters (determination of the iron contents 
by nutgalls), in essentially improving pharmacy 
(with his disciples Oswald CroU and Valerius Cor- 
dus) by the preparation of tinctures and alcoholic 
extracts .... he has achieved really fundamental 
merit for all time." 

It was also no unimportant service that Para- 
celsus rendered to medical science in attributing to 
natural rather than to the mystical influence of 
devils or spirits such nervous maladies as St. Vitus^s 
dance. It is doubtful perhaps if his influence in 
this direction was very immediate upon contempo- 
rary thought, at least if we may judge from the sad 
history of the trials, tortures and executions of 
witches during a century after the activity of Para- 

Doubtless* , also the fantastic character of the 

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philosophy of Paracelsus itself served to diminish 
the effect of his sounder and saner thought. 

A distinguished student of the history of science, 
Andrew D. White, thus characterizes the services 
of Paracelsus in this direction:* 

"Yet, in the beginning of the sixteenth century, 
cases of 'possession' on a large scale began to be 
brought within the scope of medical science, and 
the man who led in this evolution of medical science 
was Paracelsus. He it was who first bade modern 
Europe think for a moment upon the idea that these 
diseases are inflicted neither by saints nor demons, 
and that the 'dancing possession' is simply a form 
of disease of which the cure may be effected by 
proper remedies and regimen. Paracelsus appears 
to have escaped any serious interference; it took 
some time, perhaps, for the theological leaders to 
understand that he had 'let a new idea loose upon 
the planet/ but they soon understood it and their 
course was simple. For about fifty years the new 
idea was well kept under, but in 1563 another phy- 
sician, John Wier of Cleves, revived it at much risk 
to his position and reputation.'' 

An interesting thesis maintained by Paracelsus 
was the doctrine that every disease must have its 
remedy. The scholastic authorities had pronounced 
certain diseases as incurable, and they were ac- 
cordingly so considered by the profession. Reject- 
ing as he did the ancient authorities, Paracelsus 

^History of the Warfare of Science with Theology, New York 
and London, 1896 (reprinted 1919), II, p. 139. 

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naturally enough rejected this dogma as necessarily 
true. Manifestly also he believed that he himself 
had with his new remedies effected cures of certain 
of these diseases, though he makes no pretension 
to be able to cure all diseases. The history of med- 
ical thought and discussion shows that this thesis 
of Paracelsus was a frequent subject of partisan 
debate during the century after Paracelsus. 

Paracelsus sustains his thesis, however, not by 
the method of modern science — ^upon evidence of 
experiment and observation — ^but by the philosoph- 
ical or rather metaphysical argument of its a priori 
reasonableness in the divine purpose, and by his 
interpretation of the doctrines of Christ. So he 
says :* 

"Know therefore that medicine is so to be trusted 
in relation to health — that it is possible for it to 
heal every natural disease, for whenever God has 
entertained anger and not mercy, there is always 
provided for every disease a medicine for its cure. 
For Gk>d does not desire us to die but to live, and to 
live long, that in this life we may beaf sorrow and 
remorse for our sins so that we may repent of them." 

"There is yet another great error which has 
strongly influenced me to write this book — ^namely, 
because they say that diseases which I include in 
this book are incurable. Behold, now, their great 
folly: how can a physician say that a disease is 
incurable when death is not present; those only 

^ Liber de religione perpetua, quoted by Sudhoff, Versuch einer 
Kritik der Echtheit der Paracelsischen Schriften, Berlin, 1894-99, II, 
p. 415. 

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are incurable in which death is present. Thus they 
assert of gout; of epilepsy. O you foolish heads, 
who has authorized you to speak, because you know 
nothing and can accomplish nothing? Why do you 
not consider the saying of Christ, where he says 
that the sick have need of a physician? Are those 
not sick whom you abandon ? I think so. If, then, 
they are sick as proven, then they need the physician. 
If, then, they need the physician, why do you say 
they cannot be helped? They need the physician that 
they may be helped by him. Why, then, do you say 
that they are not to be helped ? You say it because 
you are born from the labyrinth [of errors] of medi- 
cine, and Ignorance is your mother. Every disease 
has its medicine. For it is God's will that He be 
manifested in marvelous ways to the sick.'"^ 

This is obviously setting dogma against dogma,) 
and opposing to scholasticism the methods of scho-^ 
lasticism. Yet that this dictum of Paracelsus was 
not without influence upon contemporary thought is 
evidenced by a passage in the writings of Robert 
Boyle in the century following:" "But, Pyrophi- 
lus, though we cannot but disapprove the vain- 
glorious boasts of Paracelsus himself and some of 
his followers, who for all that lived no longer than 
other men, yet I think mankind owes something to 
the chymists for having put some men in hope of 
doing greater cures than have been formerly aspired 
to or even thought possible, and thereby engage 

10 op. foL, I, 253, "Die erste Defension." 

11 Boyle's Works, Birch's ed., London, 1744, I, p. 481. 

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them to make trials and attempts in order thereunto. 
For not only before men were awakened and excited 
by the many promises and some great cures of Ar- 
naldus de Villanova, Paracelsus, Rulandus, Sever i- 
nus and Helmont, many physicians were wont to be 
too forward to pronounce men troubled with such 
and such diseases incurable, and rather detract 
from nature and art than confess that those two 
could do what ordinary physick could not, but even 
now, I fear, there are but too many who though they 
will not openly affirm that such and such diseases 
are absolutely incurable, yet if a particular patient 
troubled with any of them is presented, they will be 
very apt to undervalue (at least) if not deride those 
that shall attempt and hope to cure them/' 

In a previous chapter have been noted the ra- 
tional consideration and treatment which Paracelsus 
applied to wounds and open sores. Instead of the 
customary treatment of closing up by sewing or 
plastering, or covering them with poultices and ap- 
plications, he advocated cleanliness, protection from 
dirt' and "external enemies," and regulation of diet, 
trusting to nature to effect the cure. "Every wound 
heals itself if it is only kept clean.''^^ 

There is no doubt that Paracelsus enjoyed a con- 
siderable reputation as a skilful and successful prac- 
titioner, and there is contemporary testimony, as 
well as his own statements, to show that he was 
frequently sent for even from long distances to treat 

12 Cf. Fr. Helfreich in Neubnrger and Pagel, op. dt., Ill, p. 15. 

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wealthy and prominent patients whose maladies had 
baffled the skill of the Galenic physicians. 

It is, of course, true that popular reputations of 
physicians are not always the true measure of ability 
even in our day. Nevertheless, there seems little 
reason to doubt in spite of the assertion of hostile 
critics of his time, that with his new remedies, his 
keen observation and his unusually open mind, he was 
indeed able to afford relief or to effect cures where 
the orthodox physicians trammeled by their infallible 
dogmas were unsuccessful. That his new methods 
sometimes did harm rather than good is quite possible. 
That would naturally be the result of breaking rad- 
ically new paths. And an independent empiricism 
— a practice founded upon experiment and personal 
observation — seems to have been his practice and 
his teaching : ''Experientia est Scientia.^' It seems 
probable that in his dealings with the sick, his fan- 
tastic natural philosophy was rather subordinated 
to a native common sense and practical logic. As 
stated by Professor Neuburger,^* "We see in Para- 
celsus .... the most prominent embodiment of that 
enigmatic, intuitive, anticipative intelligence of the 
people, which, drawing upon the unfathomable 
sources of a rather intuitive than consciously recog- 
nized experience, not infrequently puts to shame the 
dialectically involved reasoning of scholasticism.'* 

Paracelsus has indeed clearly expressed his opin- 
ion that theories should not be permitted to dominate 
the practice of the physician. 

13 Ibid., II, p. 35. 

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"For in experiments neither theories nor other 
arguments are applicable, but they are to be con- 
sidered as their own expressions. Therefore we 
admonish every one who reads these, not to oppose 
the methods of experiment but according as its own 
power permits to follow it out without prejudice. 
For every experiment is like a weapon which must 
be used according to its peculiar power, as a spear 
to thrust, a club to strike — -so also is^it with experi- 
ments .... To use experiments requires an experi- 
enced man who is sure of his thrust and stroke that 
'^ he may use and direct it according to its fashion.'"* 

That he endeavored to keep an open mind to- 
ward the symptoms of his patients, not too much 
governed by preconceived dogmas, is also indicated 
in his defense against certain attacks of his oppo- 
nents in which they accuse him of not at once recog- 
nizing symptoms and treatment : 

"They complain of me that when I come to a 
patient, I do not know instantly what the matter 
is with him, but that I need time to find out. It is 
indeed true thatlthey pronounce judgment imme- 
diately — their folly is to blame for that, for in the 
end their first judgment is false, and from day to 
day as time passes they know less what the trouble 
is and hence betake themselves to lying, while I 
from day to day endeavor to arrive at the truth.. For 
obscure diseases cannot be at once recognized as 
colors are. With colors we can see what is black, 
green, blue, etc. If, however, there were a curtain 

1* Chit, Bucket, etc., pp. 300f. "Von frantzosischen Blatern," etc. 

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in front of them we could not rcognize them .... 
What the eyes can see can be judged quickly, but 
what is hidden from the eyes it is vain to grasp as if 
it were visible.3 Take, for instance, the miner ; be 
he as able, experienced and skilful as may be, when 
he sees for the first time an ore, he cannot know 
what it contains, what it will yield, nor how it is to 
be treated, roasted, fused, ignited or burned. He 
must first run tests and trials and see whither these 
lead . . ^'hus it is with obscure and tedious diseases, 
that so hasty judgments cannot^ be made though the 
humoral physicians do this.''" i 

Admitting the value of the positive contributions 
of Paracelsus to medical knowledge and practice, 
the net value of the reform campaign which he in- 
stituted is variously estimated by historians of medi- 
cine. For it must be remembered that Paracelsus ^ 
fought against dogmas intrenched in tradition, by 
dogmas of his own. To the fantastic theories of 
the Greek-Arabian authorities he opposed many 
equally fantastic theories. That by his assault 
upon the absurdities and weaknesses of the Galenic 
medicine of his time he paved the way for greater 
hospitality to new and progressive ideas is unques- 
tionable, but that by this assault he also did much 
to discredit the valuable elements as well as the 
corruptions of ancient medical achievements is also 
true, ^^t is very difficult to justly balance the pro- 
gressive and the reactionary influences he exerted 
upon the progress of medicine — and naturally, there- 

" op. fol, I, 262, "Die siebente Defension." 

e^ — 

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fore, authorities differ upon this question. Thus Neu- 
burger** appreciates the value of the accomplish- 
ments of Paracelsus, yet doubts that he is to be 
considered as a reformer of medicine in the sense 
that was Vesalius or Pare, that is, he laid no foun- 
dation-stones of importance, and the real value of 
much of his thought required the later developments 
of modern scientific thought for its interpretation. 
His aim was to found medicine upon physiological 
and biological foundations, but the method he chose 
was not the right method^and his analogical rea- 
soning and fantastic philosophy of macrocosm and 
microcosm were not convincing and led nowhere. 
The disaffection and discontent with conditions in 
medicine produced by his campaign, can, thinks 
Neuburger, hardly be called a revolution. That 
was to come later through the constructive work 
of more scientific methods. 

In a similar vein Haser*^ remarks, "Scarcely 
ever has a physician seized the problem of his life 
with purer enthusiasm, served it with truer heart, 
or with greater earnestness kept in view the honor 
of his calling than the reformer of Einsiedeln. But 
the aim of his scientific endeavors was a mistaken 
one and no less mistaken was the method by which 
he sought to attain it." 

A recent writer, Professor Hugo Magnus,*^ pre- 
sents a more critical point of view: 

"We must, then, summarize our judgment to 
this effect, that Paracelsus keenly felt the frightful 

i« op. cit, p. Z7. IT Op. cit., p. 105. is Op. cit., pp. 11-13. 

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corruption which medicine and the investigation of 
nature suffered from the hands of the scholastics, 
l)ut that he did not understand how to penetrate to 
the causes of this condition of his science. Instead 
of seeking in the scholastic system the root of this 
medical degeneration, he believed that it must be 
found exclusively in the healing art of the ancients. 
And thus he sought to shatter in blind hatred all 
that existed, without being in position to replace the 
old theory he maligned by a new and better concept 
of nature and medicine. So Paracelsus wore away 
in confused wrestling his bodily and mental energy, 
and lived, indeed, as a reformer — as a medical 
superman — in his own imagination, in his own valu- 
ation, but not in the recognition of his own times, 
nor in the judgment of posterity. 

"If, therefore, I can find no relationship between 
the general methods of^ medicine to-day and the 
Theophrastic concept of nature, nevertheless our 
super-colleague must be considered in an essentially 
limited respect, to be sure, as the pioneer in certain 
modern points of view. He was the first to attempt 
the consideration of the phenomena of organic life . 
in a chemical sense, and I do not need to emphasize 
that he thereby paved the way to a very powerful 
advance in our science. In this respect was Para- 
celsus a reformer, here he has pointed new paths in 
the valuation of pathological phenomena as well as 
in therapy, even if here also he has theorized enough 
and allowed his neo-Platonism to play him many a 

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By discarding and condemning all the ancient 
authorities, thinks Magnus, Paracelsus assailed not 
only the corrupted Galenism of his time but did 
much to discredit the positive achievements of the 
Greeks, and although the original Greek authorities 
were not the then prevailing texts, they were at least 
accessible in newly translated versions, and the good 
in them might have been incorporated and built upon 
by Paracelsus if he had possessed the scientific point 
of view. To the extent of his influence in this direc- 
tion Paracelsus was therefore an opponent rather 
than a promoter of the progress of medical science. 
"Through his irrational theories he gave impulse 
to all sorts of mistaken notions among his followers, , 
so that the wildest vagaries existed among the Para- 
celsists of the succeeding century." 

The above will serve to illustrate the trend of 
modern critical judgment of Paracelsus as a re- 
former of medicine. 

However estimates may vary as to the extent of 
the influence of Paracelsus as a reformer of medi- 
cine, credit must certainly be given him as a forceful 
agent in the downfall of the scholastic medical sci- 
ence of his time. The real reform in medical science, 
its establishment upon a basis of modern scientific 
method, was not the work of his century nor of the 
century to follow. Indeed, it may not be too much 
to say that that great reform was mainly the work 
of the nineteenth century, and was made possible 
only through the patient labors of many investi- 

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gators in the domains of physics, chemistry, anatomy 
and biology. 

If, however, we cannot claim for Paracelsus the 
unchallenged place of the reformer of medicine, we 
may at least recognize in him an earnest, powerful 
and prophetic voice crying in the wilderness. 

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WERE we to accept the estimate of the charac- 
ter of Paracelsus which had gradually come 
to be accepted during the eighteenth century — that 
he was a coarse and ignorant charlatan — it would 
be a contradiction in terms to consider him seriously 
in the role of a teacher of ideals of morality and 

Fortunately, however, the investigations of a 
number of thorough students of the life and times 
of Paracelsus justify us in accepting a very different 
judgment of his character and personality. 

Egotistic, intolerant and rude as he often shows 
himself to be, no authentic incidents have been ad- 
duced affecting his essential earnestness, integrity 
or morality. His former secretary and student 
Oporinus, in a letter written long after the death 
of Paracelsus, indeed makes the accusation of drun- 
kenness against him, but this testimony has been 
discredited both on grounds of the circumstances 
which brought out the letter during the bitter anti- 
Paracelsan contest, and of the general character of 

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the writer/ Had there been a solid basis for the 
charge it is hardly to be believed that greater use 
of this effective weapon would not have been made 
by his antagonists during his lifetime. Schubert 
and Sudhoff quote also from a work of J. Agricola, 
the statement of a certain Aegidius von der Wiese, 
a former pupil of Paracelsus, in which he says: 
"But this is true that Paracelsus enjoyed drinking, 
but on the other hand, when he had undertaken 
anything he scarcely ate nor drank until he had 
completed it and then, when he had the time, he 
became ordinarily merry [gemeiniglich lustig],'' 

This statement may well stand against the simi- 
larly unsupported statement of Oporinus. The cus- 
tom of his time and country would indeed have con- 
doned a reasonable indulgence and even occasional 
excesses of that kind, though passages in Paracel- 
sus's works are not few where he himself condemns 
drunkenness, and there is no positive evidence that 
his own life was inconsistent with such convictions. 

Ignorance also cannot be charged against him. 
This charge seems to have been based largely upon 
the fact that he wrote and lectured in German rather 
than in Latin, But those who lived in his time and 
country doubtless well knew that his reasons for so 
doing were much the same that animated Luther 
who had set him the example. Moreover, his use 
of Latin in his own works, and his many allusions 
to Greek and Latin authors make it evident that he 
commanded the language in which they were writ- 

* Cf. Schubert and SudhoflF, Paracelsusforschungen, II. pp. 79ff. 

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ten and possessed an extensive familiarity with 
their doctrines, though perhaps not a scholarly in- 
terest in their writings. 

Nevertheless, whatever may have been his short- 
comings and limitations, there is no reason to doubt 
the earnestness or sincerity of his efforts to raise 
the standards of medical ethics, nor the essential 
piety of his own convictions. 

We may, therefore, be justified in accepting the 
consistently and constantly reiterated ideals of the 
mission of medicine, and of the ethical standards 
of the medical practitioner as the sincere utterances 
of a devoted missionary. 

The condition of medical ethics at the time, if 
we may judge from such expressions as have al- 
ready been quoted from Erasmus, Agrippa and 
Ramus, and as the history of medicine affords ample 
confirmation, was such as to justify the criticisms 
of Paracelsus and warrant his efforts at reform 
That the persecution and contempt of the profession 
added an element of personal resentment and bitter- 
ness to his campaign is also manifest. 

The character of the appeal of Paracelsus and its 
probable influence upon such medical students as 
were not too strongly prejudiced against him — and 
particularly upon the lay public, already, it would 
seem, somewhat suspicious of the conventional scho- 
lastic physician — may best be understood from his 
own utterances. 

"Ye physicians, of what use to us is the name, 
the title, the university, if we possess not the knowl- 

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edge [of medicine] ? Knowledge makes the physi- 
cian, not the name or the school. What is it for 
us if we appear great and make great display, if we 
have not the knowledge ? Of what use that we are 
considered great by lords, cities or countries — that 
we are given dignities and honors, and when the 
time of need arises, when we should be able worthily 
to repay the honors bestowed and we have not the 
knowledge? Whom do honors, the doctor's cloak 
and ring really adorn but those who deserve them 
by reason of their knowledge? Knowledge does 
not grow in our heads, if we do not know the virtues 
contained in the herbs. The garden of knowledge 
is like a garden of trees; the arts are founded in 
experience and taught by nature. If the trees in the 
garden are mutilated down to the trunk, of what use 
is the tree ? However tall and handsome it may be, 
if it lacks branches no fruits can come of it. And 
like a tree mutilated to the trunk are those physi- 
cians who are grounded only in human fantasies, 
they are mutilated and yield no fruits — only the 
trunk stands .... Or to take another simile, as when 
a trooper cuts off the tail of a Prankish or Swabian 
horse to adorn his helmet so that he may gratify 
his vanity. But when summer comes the horse has 
nothing to protect him from the flies and has a 
wretched reward for having contributed to the 
trooper's splendor. So with physicians : if we give 
ourselves over to vanity and show, it happens to 
us as to the Swabian horse, when diseases appear 
we have no tails to protect us and must be vexed 

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by the diseases as the horse by the gadflies. For 
our vanity and splendor, our paternosters, our rings 
and name and title are only the stump remaining on 
the horse's rump and the tail which was so useful 
a protection is no longer there. . . .1 wish to ad- 
monish all physicians that they scrutinize, not me 
to whom they -are hostile, but themselves and then 
they may judge me accordingly. I was grown in 
your garden and was transplanted from it into an- 
other. That is, I was trained in that garden where 
trees are mutilated and was no slight ornament to 
the university. But when the Archeites saw that 
that growth would lead me into vanity and show, 
it was brought about that I should be transplanted 
and should be planted in another garden. For just 
as a good fruit-tree is dug up and a linden planted 
in its place, so it takes place there [in the univer- 
sities]. For there the physician's fruitfulness is 
taken away from him, and he is made into a feast 
for the eyes like the linden-tree, but his fruits dis- 
appear. This transplanting was brought about for 
this reason, that after so much mutilation I should 
be planted in another garden, that is, that I should 
enter into the paths of experience and avoid that 

Evidently his attacks upon the practitioners of 
his day brought forth from his opponents accusa- 
tions of lack of professional courtesy, for he feels 
himself called upon to defend hirnself against this 

2 Chir. Biicher, etc., p. 309, "Spitalbuch," Preface. 

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"It should not appear strange to any one that 
I cannot praise selfishness in medicine, because I 
know how harmful it is, so that the art of medicine 
has become falsified by it and has been led astray 
into a show and a bargaining, so that nothing can 
take place without falseness which leads to corrup- 
tion in all things. The physician must not be founded 
■ on selfishness but in love. . . .1, for my part, am 
ashamed of medicine that it has so fallen into de- 
ception. There is no abandoned hangman, bawdy- 
house keeper, or dog-killer that will not sell his 
human or dog's fat for money and claim to cure all 
diseases with it, and that even when His conscience 
tells him that the treatment of one disease only is 
permitted to him. But because of their greed the)^ 
take everything that comes their way. Therefore 
there have come into medicine all the lazy and wicked 
vagabonds, and they sell their remedies whether they 
suit the case or not. Whoever gets money in his 
purse has the reputation of being a good physician. 
.... They do not care that it has come to them un- 
deserved, only so that it is there. 

"It is also a doctor's custom wherever the law 
permits it — whether rightly or not I do not know — 
that a visit is worth a gulden whether earned or not. 
.... To have pity for another and to fulfil the law of 
love will not become a custom or use: they wish to 
have no law any more but to take — take, whether it 
is right or wrong. So they deck themselves with 
rings and chains of gold ; so they go about in silken 
clothing and proclaim to all the world their open 

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disgrace, which they consider as an honor and as 
proper for a physician ; so ornamented like a picture 
they strut about — it is an abomination in the sight 
of God .... Medicine is an art which should be em- 
ployed with great conscientiousness and great ex- 
perience and in the great fear of God, for he who 
does not fear God he murders and steals continually, 
and he who has no conscience has also no shame in , 
him .... I trust I have defended myself from having 
anything to do with the pseudo-medici, or from 
doing anything to please them : I would rather speed 
the axe to be laid at that tree. If it depended on 
me it would hot be long delayed."* 

In a similar vein he elsewhere says: 

"They have brought things to such a pass that 
^ all men flee from medicine and hold it all as knaving 
and swindling. They have so deceived people with 
their arts that a common peasant or a Jew com- 
/ mands more credence than they. And, indeed, these 

^ can do more than the doctors. Is it not a crime and 
a shame when a city physician [Stadtar:3t] is ap- 
pointed in a city, and the sick flee from him because 
he cannot help them and must let them lie, and 
others who have not studied must assist them?''* 

His exalted ideal of the mission of medical sci- 
ence and of the true physician finds frequent utter- 
ance throughout his writings, as the following ex- 
amples may illustrate : 

"For God wills that man be truthful and not a 

8 op. fol, I, 259-261, "Die fiinfte Defension." 
* Op. fol, I, 61, "Paramirum." 

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doubter and liar ; He has created truth and not lies, 
and ordained and established the physician in the 
truth and not in lies. The truth is then his integrity. 
Such is the physician's integrity that he shall be as 
steadfast and as truthful as the Apostles of Christ, 
for in God's sight he is not less."" 

"Now take note, that among all the arts and 
professions of mankind God most loves the phy- 
sician and He commands and ordains him. There- 
fore, as the physician is so preferred and distin- 
guished by God , he must be no hypocrite [Larven- 
mann], no old wife, no executioner, no liar, no tri- 
fler, but a real man must he be."" 

"As now it is the physician alone who can most 
highly prize and praise God, he must have the great- 
est knowledge. And why? Who is it except the 
physician that can know man, what he is, and how 
great God has made him ? He can make known the 
works of God, how noble the universe is, and how 
much nobler is man, and how one proceeds and is 
born from the other [i. e., the macrocosm and micro- 
cosm]. He who does not know this must not boast 
himself a physician.'" 

His ideals of service of the physician toward the 
poor and needy may be illustrated by the following 
extract from the Preface to his Hospital-Book. 

"Of what use is it if I write much about the sick 
and the poor and of how their health is to be secured 

° op. fol, I, 227, "Paragranum." 

^Ibid., I. 226. 

T Op, fol, I, 81, "Paramirum." 

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and do not also admonish the rich? For no good 
can happen to the poor without the rich. Both are 
bound together as with a chain, and as little may 
any chain suffer a break as the chain which binds 
together the rich and the poor. Learn, ye rich, to 
recognize these chains. For if you break your link, 
ye not only break the chain but like the broken link 
ye will be cast aside. Why, then, do you try to 
make yourselves free from the poor and to shut your 
help from them? Just as if you should take some 
links from a chain and make it too short, so, without 
the poor, would your path be too short to reach to 
the Kingdom of Heaven and you would not attain 
the goal for which the chain was given you. Learn 
then, both rich and poor, that all your diseases on 
earth lie in one single hospital and that is the hos- 
pital of God. ... 

"Do not let yourselves be discouraged because 
with many of the sick, neither help nor faith, nor art, 
nor benevolence, nor g^nything will help them; it is 
so ordained for them for reasons elsewhere suffi- 
ciently described .... Forget not your truth, despair 
not and be not discouraged, but continue in love. 
Despise not your art but make yourself skilled in 
it, that you may not fail in the truth and under- 
standing of medicine, but that any failure may lie 
with nature. Be gentle and merciful and judge of 
your charities as to what aim, use and fruitfulness 
they may arrive, and trust nothing to unreason."® 

Similar exhortations and expressions of his 

« Chir. Bucher, etc., pp. 311f, "Spitalbuch." 

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strong convictions upon the mission of the true phy- 
sician are scattered numerously through nearly all 
his writings. Evidently the purification of medical / 
ethics and practice was one of the dominant aims of^ 
his reform campaign. 

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UNTIL recently little notice has been taken of 
the very considerable activity of Paracelsus 
as a thinker and writer on theology. From the tenor 
of much that has been already cited it might be in- 
ferred that matters of theology could not be in- 
different to him. And indeed it was known from 
very early records that Paracelsus had written works 
of this character. Even the inventory of his per- 
sonal effects recorded at Salzburg after his death 
makes mention of a collection of theological manu- 
scripts presumably written by himself. So also 
. Conrad Gesner in his Bibliotheca Universalis (1545) 
says of Paracelsus that he composed and dedicated 
to the Abbot of St. Gall, "I know not what theolog- 
ical works which I believe not to have been pub- 

Moreover there exists on record a receipt signed 
by Johannes Huser at Neuburg, October 10, 1594,. 
for a collection of autograph manuscripts by Para- 
celsus upon theological subjects. The collection in- 
cludes some twenty-five titles of works. Other lists 

1 Raymund Netzhammer, Theophrastus Paracelsus, Einsiedeln, 
1901, p. 53. 

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of his theological writings are in existence dating 
from the latter half of the sixteenth century. In 
1618 a publisher, Johann Staricius, issued a volume 
containing a few of these theological essays. In his 
Preface the editor asserts that he knows a place 
where nearly a cart-load of these theological manu- 
scripts may be found.^ 

Of all these manuscripts not one is now known 
to exist as autograph, though Sudhoff's search 
through the libraries of Europe has brought to 
light collections of copies in the libraries at Leyden, 
Gorlitz and elsewhere, some of these copies dating 
as early as 1564 to 1567, and many of them bearing 
titles included in the early list of autograph manu- 
scripts as receipted for by Huser, or in other early 

The manuscripts borrowed by Huser from the 
library at Neuburg were manifestly intended to 
be used in the published collection of his works. 
That they were not so used is easily explained by 
the tenor of the contents of such as have been in 
part printed or abstracted by Sudhoff in the second 
volume of his Versuch. For they are very out- 
spoken and indeed frankly heretical in their criti- 
cisms of many of the institutions and observances 
of the Roman Church. Huser was himself a Roman 
Catholic, and the publication of the works of Para- 
celsus by Huser was undertaken under the patron- 

2 Cf. Netzhammer, op. cit., p. 127. 

3 For statements as to the evidence of authenticity of many of 
these manuscripts, cf. Sudhoff, Versuch, etc., II, Introduction. 

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age and with the support of the Archbishop of Co 
logne. Though Paracelsus claimed allegiance to 
the Catholic Church and died and was buried at 
Salzburg as a Catholic!, yet his views were so radical 
and so severely critical of many of the essential 
doctrines of the Church, that their publication could 
hardly have been possible under such support and 
supervision. Indeed, it is evident that any wide 
circulation of his writings would have brought upon 
him the severest discipline of the Church. Even 
the Lutheran clerical party would have had little 
sympathy with his point of view. It is quite prob- 
able that Paracelsus himself made no effort to print 
them but rather avoided their publication, prefer- 
ring merely to place them in the hands of congenial 
thinkers or to leave them for posterity. 

It is certain that the revolt of his contemporary 
Luther, and his countryman Zwingli as well as the 
critical spirit of Erasmus exercised a great influence 
upon Paracelsus — predisposed by natural tempera- 
ment to independent and free thinking and criticism 
of authority. 

It should be kept in mind also that severe criti- 
cism of the orthodox Church, its observances and 
corruption was quite prevalent even before the 
time of the Protestant Reformation. In Italy Ma- 
chiavelli writing about 1500 thus freely criticizes 
the corruption of the Church : "Should we send the 
Curia to Switzerland, the most religious and martial 
of countries, that experiment would prove that no 
piety nor warrior's strength could resist the papal 

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corruption and intrigue .... The peoples nearest 
Rome have least religion .... We Italians have to 
thank the Church and the priests that we have be- 
come irreligious and corrupt."* 

So also Savonarola, the great Dominican monk, 
writing in 1493, ^^e year of the birth of Paracelsus : 
''Go to Rome and throughout all Christendom in the 
houses of the great prelates and the great lords, they 
busy themselves with nothing but poetry and rhet- 
oric. Go and see, you will find them with humanistic 
books in their hands ; it will appear as if they knew 
how to guide souls by Virgil, Horace and Cicero. 
With Aristotle, Plato, Virgil and Petrarcli they 
feed their ears and do not trouble themselves about 
the salvation of souls. Why do they not teach in- 
stead of so many books, that one in which is contained 
the law and the life." The prelates, said Savona- 
rola, are sunk in ambition, shamelessness and lux- 
ury, and the princes — "their palaces and courts are 
the refuge of all beasts and monsters of the earth, 
asylums for all rascals and criminals. These stream 
thither because they find there opportunity and in- 
citement to give free rein to all their boundless 
desires and evil passions .... and what is worse, 
there also may be seen churchmen who join in the 
same accord.'"^ 

Whatever stimulus may have been given to the 
unorthodox theology of Paracelsus by the Protes- 

* W. Dilthey, Archiv fur Geschichte der Philosophie, IV, pp. 6361 

5 Cf. Paulsen, Geschichte des gelehrten Unterrichts, 2d ed., Leip- 
sic, 1896-97, I, pp. lOf. 

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tant Reformation, it is evident that he was no less 
critical and unsympathetic toward the Lutheran 
interpretation than toward the Catholic. This is 
evidenced by many passages in his writings wherein 
he refers to the Protestant leaders of his day as 
raise prophets, etc. 

"Those who stand with the Pope consider him a 
living saint, those who stand with the Arian^ also 
hold him a righteous man, those who hold with 
Zwingli likewise consider him a righteous man, 
those who stand with Luther hold him a true 
prophet. Thus the people are deceived. Every 
fool praises his own motley. He who depends on 
the Pope rests on the sand, he who depends on 
Zwingli depends on hollow ground, he who depends 
upon Luther depends on a reed. They all deem 
themselves each above the other, and denounce one 
another as Antichrists, heathens and heretics, and 
are but four pairs of breeches from one cloth. It 
is with them as with a tree that has been twice 
grafted and bears white and yellow pears. Who- 
ever opposes them and speaks the truth, he must 
die. How many thousands have they strangled and 
caused to be strangled in recent years."^ . 

"They pray in the temples — ^but their prayer is 
not acceptable to God, for it means nothing, and 
they — altogether, Papists, Lutherans, Anabaptists, 
Zwinglians — they all boast that they are of the 
Holy Ghost, that they are founded on the Gospel. 

• Here doubtless denoting any great heretic. 
7 Sudhoff, Versuch, etc., II, p. 411. 

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Therefore they cry 1 am right, the right is with 
me, I declare the word of God, here is Christ and 
His word as I tell it you — follow me, I am he who 
brings you the Gospel/ See what an abomination 
among Pharisees this is."® 

More specifically may be judged the extent of 
his departure from the doctrines of his own Church 
in the following: 

''It is vain — the daily churchgoing and all the 
genuflection, bowing and observances of church 
rules by clergy and the laity — ^none " excepted — all 
a vain work with no fruits, the will and service 
of the Devil, opposed to Christ and the Holy Trinity. 
The reasons ? The Church is called in Latin Catho- 
lica and is the spirit of all true believers, and their 
coming together is in the Holy Spirit. These are 
all in the faith, that is in the Mes catholica, and it 
has no location. But Ecclesia is a walled structure." 

Continuing, he condemns public prayers in the 
churches, church-festivals ("a dance of devils") — 
"God wishes a humble and contrite heart and no 
devilish holiday observances, offerings or displays," 
Fasting in the "walled churches" is an invention of 
the Devil. The giving of alms in the churches "does 
not serve toward eternal blessedness," and the giv- 
ing of alms in the Catholic churches comes only 
from credulity and from no love from the neighbor 
nor for the neighbor. Pilgrimages, dispensations, 
"running to the saints" are all in vain and have no 
merit. The monastic orders, the religious orders of 

5 Schubert and Sudhoff, Paracelsusforschungen, II, p. 153. 

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knighthood and the like are inventions of the Devil 
and maintained in his honor. Spreading the faith 
by the sword is from the Devil. 

"Who can presume to consecrate and bless the 
earth. It is God's earth, blessed to bring forth fruit ; 
the water is blessed by Gk)d to quench thirst, to breed 
fish, to water the earth, not to sprinkle to banish the 
Devil as holy water/'* 

Similar points of view are found expressed in 
his printed works though naturally with less of de- 
tail in his criticism. 

Thus from the Paramirum : ''God will only have 
the heart, not ceremonies .... For every man is with 
God a neighbor and has full power to take up his 
affairs with God. But if a man gives this power out 
of his hands and does not keep what God has given 
him, but surrenders it to another and seeks it again 
from that other, then he falls into ceremonies and 
depends upon despair. For every ceremony is the 
way of despair .... For if we have anything to re- 
ceive from God it is our hearts he sees and not the 
ceremonies. If he has given us anything, he does 
not wish that we should employ it in ceremonies 
but in our work. For he gives it for no other pur- 
pose but that we should love God with all our heart 
and our might, and soul, and that we should help 
our neighbor. If that which he has given us helps 
toward that, all ceremonies will be forgotten."^** 

*"De septem punctis Idolatriae Christianae," quoted by Sudhoff, 
Versuch, etc., II, pp. 338ff. 

^^ Op. fol, I, 114-115, "Liber de origine morborum invisibilium." 

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That such expressions as the above are not to 
be harmonized with the doctrines of the Church to 
which he claimed allegiance would appear obvious. 
The Rev. Raymund Netzhammer of the Benedictine 
order, one of the recent biographers of Paracelsus, 
thus expresses himself upon this point :" 

"Far more in the domain of theology than even in 
medicine, does Paracelsus, who sometimes calls him - 
self Doctor of Sacred ScripturCj seem to recognize 
no authority, but to consider his own thinking and 
philosophizing as authoritative for him. That with 
this principle of free investigation, denying every 
authority, even that of the Church, he departed from 
the foundations of Catholic doctrine every well- 
informed person knows. But not only by this prin- 
ciple as such, but still more through its practical 
development did he separate himself from the faith 
of his fathers : he combated the hierarchical estab- 
lishment of the Church, the power of the keys, its 
monastic orders, its ceremonies, its public prayers 
and devotions. He rejected preaching among Chris- 
tians, who should teach themselves from the Scrip- 
tures, and banished the apostles and preachers to 
the heathen .... It must, however, not be. denied, 
but on the contrary emphasized that Theophrastus 
possessed a very high, though unfortunately too 
mystical a concept of many doctrines and sacra- 
ments, as for instance of hereditary sin, of baptism 
with its inextinguishable symbols, and notably also 
of the communion. Baptism and communion are 

11 op. cit., pp. 128f. 

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for him the two principal roads which lead to 

The question as to his orthodoxy has been 
viewed differently by his biographers. His editor 
Huser mildly defends his Catholicism. "Some are 
inclined to hold him in suspicion on account of his 
religion, because in various places he speaks in op- 
position to certain abuses: in my opinion this is 
unjust, for, as concerns his faith, it is well known 
that he did not separate from the holy Catholic 
and Roman Church, but remained in obedience to 
it, as the Archbishopric and City of Salzburg can 
bear witness, where he died in the year 1541, a 
Catholic and Christian, and was honorably in- 
terred." (Op. foL, Preface.) 

Schubert and Sudhoff summarize the results of 
their studies into the life and character of Paracel- 
sus thus : 

"If we consider his attitude toward the religious 
parties of the time, we may perhaps find that in the 
years before 1531 he felt some inclination toward 
the Reformation of Luther and Zwingli, perhaps 
only in so far as he presumed in those who had 
broken in matters of faith with ancient authorities, a 
greater sympathy also with his reform ideas in the 
domain of medicine and natural science .... Later — 
after the year 1531 — there is no further talk of 
sparing the Protestants. On the contrary, if he also 
combated the Roman hierarchy, the external forms 
of worship and other ceremonies, he yet rejects all 

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dissenting religious parties as 'sects/ almost even 
more violently."" 

Though none of the theological papers of Para- 
celsus were published during his life, so far as is 
known, yet his views were more or less known, either 
from manuscript copies, or from his free oral ex- 
pressions, and evidently brought upon him the dis- 
pleasure and disapproval of Catholic authorities. 
Evidence as to this appears in a manuscript among 
the collection examined by Sudhoff and published 
in large part in his volume on the manuscripts of 
Paracelsus. The extract translated below is so emi- 
nently characteristic of Paracelsus's point of view 
in theological matters and so well illustrates his 
relation at the time to the orthodox theology, that 
it forms one of the most interesting expressions of 
his spiritual experience. 

"Your daily disputations and sharp attacks upon 
me on account of my truth-speaking, namely, that I 
have sometimes and several times in taverns, inns 
and roadhouses spoken against useless churchgoing, 
luxurious festivals, vain praying and fasting, giving 
of alms, offerings, tithes, .... confession, partaking 
of the sacrament, and all other priestly rules and ob- 
servances, and have accused me of drunkenness on 
account of this, because this has taken place in the 
taverns, and the taverns are held to be inappropriate 
places for the truth — and that you call me a corner- 
preacher : — ^Why do you do this to me at this time, 

" Schubert and Sudhoff, op. cit., II, pp. 152f. 

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when you were silent and well pleased when in the 
taverns I advised people to give offerings to you and 
to follow you and not to speak against you ? If that 
was proper in the inns and was of service to you, 
then let it please you now that the truth is spoken 
in the inns. For there in the inns I was a believer 
in you, but now I am a believer in Christ and no 
longer in you. And if I came into the inns with you, 
then I would say to these same people, 'Guard your- 
selves against false prophets and deceivers who are 
sent by the Devil.' I would never again speak of 
giving to you, but of taking away from you, the 
usurped power which you have long exercised 
through the DeviFs power .... Also you say of me 
that I have just sense enough to reason with peas- 
ants .... You say I should go amongst the doctors 
at Louvain, Paris, Vienna, Ingolstadt, Cologne, 
where I should have real persons under my eyes, 
not peasants, not tradesmen, but masters of theol- 
ogy. Know then my answer to this: to those will 
come their own equals. If it be not I, it will be an- 
other, but my teaching and my witnessing for Christ 
will come forth and overcome them. Christ never 
came to Rome, yet Rome is His vicar ; St. Peter 
never came to Cologne, yet he is her patron saint, 
and if in the end I do not come that is not my fault. 
For the teaching is not mine, it is from Christ. He 
will send a Netherlands messenger if I cannot speak 
the language, and to those of Vienna and Ingolstadt 
he will send their countrymen, and the truth will 
be born amongst them and through them will come 

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to light and not through me. And when I am dead 
the doctrine will live on, for it is of Christ, who 
dieth not. And if I were at Louvain and at Paris 
it is not me they would punish — upon which you 
count — they would but punish Christ and not me. 
Yet I believe that my speaking to-day will be heard 
by them as well as if I had spoken in their presence. 
For Christ does not let his word be lost at any time. 
Nor does he let it lie hidden, it must go forward. It 
is not for one alone, it must be spread abroad. 
Everything must be opened to it. 

"You complain much and loudly that I have 
made the peasants contumacious, so that they never 
make offerings and care little for you or not at all. 
Consider; if my speech were from the Devil, they 
would follow you and not me. But as they follow 
me and not you believe no other than that the Holy 
Spirit is in them which teaches them to recognize 
your character, trickery and great falsehoods. For 
I have not invented anything myself — what I have 
said that is from the Holy Ghost. It is the Gospel 
.... and has been the Gospel from the time of Christ 
till this day. But your trickery is more ancient — 
from Cain and from the old hypocrites and bishops. 
The new [Gospel] is true, the old, false. The new 
condemns the old, not the old the new. Were the 
Old Testament from which you take all your decep- 
tions fully good and true, Christ would not have re- 
newed it again."" 

*3 "De septem punctis Idolatriae Christianae," quoted by Sudhoff, 
Versuch, etc., II, pp. ZZZ^, 

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The doctrines of theology which Paracelsus ac- 
cepted appear not only from the above strong state- 
ment but consistently from numerous extracts 
throughout his works to be his own literal inter- 
pretation of the teachings of Christ. He asked for 
no intermediate authority to interpret to him their 
meaning, and entertained no doubts as to the cor- 
rectness of his own rendering. That he was deeply 
impressed with the spirit of the teachings of Christ 
often shows itself, particularly in its practical rela- 
tion to the service of man toward his fellow. Love 
and helpfulness for the neighbor, the poor and the 
sick are frequently themes of his appeals. 

Among the manuscripts which Sudhoff has re- 
produced is a sermon containing an autobiograph- 
ical fragment, manifestly written in his later years, 
which is so retrospective and introspective, and so 
completely in accord with the known facts of the 
life of Paracelsus, that it bears the strongest pos- 
sible internal evidence of genuineness. The manu- 
script is at Leyden and is a copy made between 1590 
and 1 610. Copies of somewhat later date exist also 
in Copenhagen, Salzburg and the British Museum, 
the latter in a Latin version. 

For the estimation of the personality and mental 
experiences of Paracelsus, it is too important to be 

''As I have undertaken to write of the blessed 
life of Christian faith, it has not seemed proper to 
attempt to portray that without this introduction. 
.... Therefore I have undertaken to write this pref- 

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ace to the blessed life of Christian experience that 
I may excuse my delay in writing this book, as I 
began working upon it in the twentieth year [1520]. 
Why I have so long postponed and delayed has not 
happened without reasons. One of these is this that 
youth should not come forward before its proper 
time, as nothing should appear before its time, but 
should await the detefmined hour toward which we 
all progress. For another reason, not only my 
youtli, but that other matters of my profession 
have prevented me, namely that astronomy, medi- 
cine and works in philosophy had to be described, 
that is to say, that which concerns the Light of 
Nature, so that I had to leave for a later harvest 
the Sacred Writings; that they might be well 
ripened, they have been postponed to the end and 
the lesser things completed first. These are two 
reasons that have strongly influenced me. But not 
only from these causes has the delay arisen, but 
much more from this that I was raised and grew 
up in great poverty so that my resources have not 
permitted me to act according to my desires. 

"And even when I had nearly finished there 
arose in my affairs, public and private, much oppo- 
sition which has lain on my shoulders alone, and 
there has been no one to hold back and shield for 
me. For very strange kinds of people have perse- 
cuted and accused me and hindered me and dis- 
credited me, so that I have had little reputation 
among men but rather contempt. . For my tongue 
is not built for chattering but for work and for the 

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truth. That is the reason that I have not counted 
for much with the logicians and dialecticians in 
medicine, philosophy and astronomy. Also their 
pomp and display and fine speeches for princes and 
the rich — I have been nothing like that, and have 
therefore been forsaken. So also has greatly tor- 
mented me the winning of my bread [der PHug 
meiner Nahrung] . For the world is not to be gained 
by astronomy, as it has little value except for itself, 
nor by medicine as it has not power over all dis- 
eases, nor by philosophy [i. e., natural philosophy] 
likewise, as it is held in contempt, but by trades- 
men's wealth and courtly manners. That has been 
a cross to me and still is to this day. 

"Nor has all this been the least : . . . . The other 
[reason] is so great that I can hardly describe it — 
that is the greatest cause which has hindered me 
from writing — that I have not been considered a 
true Christian ; that has troubled me severely. For 
because I am a creature of God, redeemed by His 
blood and through it have received food and drink 
in the new birth, that has seemed sufficient to me to 
make me a true Christian. 

"But there has arisen against me another crowd 
and faction who say, Thou as a layman, as a peas- 
ant, as a common man, shouldst pot speak of such 
things as pertain to the Sacred Scriptures, but 
shouldst listen to us — to what we tell you and hold 
to that, and shouldst listen to no others nor read 
anything except us alone!' I was thus forced into 
a delay — I hardly dared to stir for they were power- 

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ful in this world, I had to endure it as one who must 
lie under the stairs. 

''But, nevertheless, when I read the corner-stone 
of Christendom and heard the preaching and dis- 
putations of the others (it was like a miller and a 
coal-heaver against each other), it became necessary 
for me and manifest that I should accept rather the 
truth than' lies, rather righteousness than unright 
eousness, rather light than darkness, rather Christ 
than Satan. When I perceived the difference I let 
the opposition go without contradiction and accepted 
for myself the Christian corner-stone. As I then 
found that in the layman, in the common man, in 
the peasant (which name they employ when they 
would abuse their opponents most scornfully), the 
perfection of the blessed Christian life most abides, 
and not at all in those others, then I began to write 
of the truth of the life in Christ. When I had then 
finished the writing and concluded with much hope, 
there broke out the division of the kingdom of this 
world as it now is [i. e., the Reformation?]. So I 
delayed and took pause — postponed it till another 
autumn and harvest. It has now seemed good to 
me to make an end, and so to close with these books, 
the fruits of the seed which has been with me from 
the beginning. 

"Therefore I have included in one work the re- 
lation of Christians to the blessed life and likewise 
the relation of Christians to the unblessed life. . . . 
Those in the unblessed life are great, are arrogant 
— they own the world, it is theirs — they are the 

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children of the light of the world. But the blessed — 
they have not the world — ^but they have their king- 
dom which is not of this world but of the Eternal, 
and with the Eternal : where two of the blessed life 
are together, there is Christ the third. Those are 
the riches that they have in this world. And al- 
though those who have opposed me have greatly 
hindered me, they have not suspected what has lain 
in my pen; I have kept my mouth closed, that the 
storm and the thunderbolt should not strike me to 
earth. Thereby I have brought it forward till this 
day and have not troubled myself about them, but 
have held companionship with the common people 
of whom they are ashamed and have myself there- 
fore been despised. This has been my preparation 
for this work.'"' 

1* Sudhoff, Versuch, etc., II, pp. 406-408. 

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WHEN PARACELSUS so summarily termi- 
nated his career as a university teacher by 
his flight from Basel in 1528, he evidently realized 
that henceforth he could expect little sympathy or 
support from the profession or the university facul- 
ties. "I am called a rejected member of the unf- 
versities, a heretic of the profession, a misleader of 
scholars."^ He recognized that for the realization 
of his ambitions for the reform of medical theory 
and practice he must depend upon appeals to a wider 
public than the scholastic physicians and to a 
younger generation of medical students. 

"Nevertheless, I shall not in my time be able 
to overthrow this structure of fables, for they are 
old and obstinate dogs who will learn nothing new 
and are ashamed to recognize their folly. That, 
however, does not matter very much, but it does 
matter that, as I hope, the young men will be of a 
very different character [werden in eine andere 
Haut schlieffen, i. e., 'schlilpfen'] when the old 

1 op. fol, I, 201, 'Taragranum/' Preface. 

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ones have passed away, and will forsake their super- 
stitions and thus the foundation [of medicine] will 
make progress."^ 

On leaving Basel he was in his thirty-fifth year. 
His subsequent life, comprising some thirteen years, 
was devoted with great energy and persistency to 
writing and when possible to publishing his many 
treatises upon medicine, surgery, natural philosophy, 
theology and other subjects comprising his volumi- 
nous works. 

This work was pursued in spite of many ob- 
stacles and much opposition. Driven by poverty 
and the necessity for earning his bread, as well as 
by the hostility of his opponents, to frequent changes 
of residence, impelled often doubtless by his own 
native restlessness to seek new scenes of labor and 
experience, he led a lonely and wandering life. 

The story of these wanderings has been pieced 
out in detail from autobiographical notes in his 
works, from dates and places where prefaces or 
dedications of his various books or letters were writ- 
ten and from occasional contemporary local records. 
Such data have been sifted and compared with local 
and contemporaneous records notably by R. J. Hart- 
mann, and thus a very connected and probably cor- 
rect record of this period of his life has been recon- 
structed:'* It is not the purpose here to follow this 
story in detail. It appears, however, that no year 

2 Chir. Biicher, etc., Preface (first printed in 1536). 

* Cf. Hartmann, op. cit. The detailed story with some imaginative 
embellishment may be found in Stoddart's Life of Paracelsus. 

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passed for Paracelsus without one or more changes ] 
of residence, and no place could be called his home. 

After leaving Basel, he was for a time in Colmar 
whence he wrote letters — still extant — to his friend 
B. Amerbach at Basel; later at Esslingen on the 
Neckar^ which place he left after some experiences 
with a patient and the local physicians who provoked 
him. Shortly after we find him at Nuremberg en- 
deavoring to publish certain of his works. It ap- 
pears that these had passed the public censors and 
permission had been granted for printing, when be- 
cause of protests emanating from the medical fac- 
ulty of Leipsic the permission was revoked. There 
is preserved and printed by Huser in his collection 
of the writings of Paracelsus, the letter in which the 
author appeals to the city authorities against this 
decision. In it he challenges the justice of thus de- 
nying him the privilege of publication on the protest 
of the university faculty. He stands for the truth, 
he says, and his opponents should be made to prove 
their claims in open disputation before his publica- 
tions should be prohibited. This letter bears date 
of March i, 1530, and is dated at Beratzhausen. 
There is no evidence, however, that his appeal was 
granted consideration. 

Interesting evidence as to his presence in Nurem- 
berg in 1529 and of the impression he made upon a 
contemporary writer, is found in a passage in the 
Chronica, Zeytbuch und Geschichtsbibel of Sebas- 
tian Franck: 

"Dr. Theophrastus von Hohenheym, a physician 

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1 62 




V ^ 


This portrait and the following one are probably by A. Hirschvogel (c. 
1503-1569), engraved after sketches from life. The signature re- 
produced underneath reads : "Theophrastus von Hohenheim, der 
Heiligen Schrift und beider Arzneien Doctor." 

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and astronomer. In the year 1529 the Doctor men- 
tioned came to Nuremberg — a strange and wonder- 
ful man, who ridicules nearly all doctors and writers 
of medicine. He is said to have burned the Avi- 


cenna in public in the University; is quite alone in 
opposition to all medical men in his prescriptions, 
diagnosis, medical theory, and maintains many difr 

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ferences with many of them [und vil wider sinns 
mit vilen helt] ." 

The allusion to Paracelsus as an ''astronomer" 
is justified by his occasional publications of prognos- 
tications of political and other events in Europe. 
This class of publications was very common even at 
a much later period, and many physicians and ''as- 
tronomers" issued them. 

That these later years of Paracelsus were years 
of active authorship, we know not only from the 
mass of his evidently authentic work, but from his 
occasional struggles, more often unsuccessful than 
successful, to get his works printed. In a Latin 
letter of Paracelsus to an unnamed correspondent 
he himself refers to his continuous labor in writing 
— taking no time for pleasures. Internal evidence 
locates the date of this at 1529 or 1530.* 

From the leaves of a diary of about 1534-35 
written in Latin by Joh. Riitiner, a citizen of St. 
Gallen, where Paracelsus spent some time, we learn 
that "Theophrastus — is most laborious, sleeps little, 
— without undressing throws himself, booted and 
spurred, on the bed for some three hours, and cease- 
lessly, ceaselessly, writes."" 

The preface to the third book of the Paramirum 
was dated in St. Gall in 153 1. It was here that 
he is said by Staricius to have dedicated various 
theological writings to the Abbot of St. Gall. 

* See Schubert and Sudhoff, Paracelsusforschungen, II, p. 53. 
» Ibid., I, p. 63. 

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In 1534, he came to Innsbruck in the Austrian 
Tyrol, in poverty and rags, and where he apparently 
was refused the privileges of the city. "The burgo- 
master of Innsbruck has probably seen doctors in 
silken clothing at the courts of princes, not broiling 
in the sun in tattered rags," remarks Paracelsus in 
the Preface to his treatise, "The Pestilence in the 
City of Stertzingen."^ From Innsbruck he went to 
Stertzingen, and thence to Meran in the Tyrol, 
where he tells us that he obtained honor and good 
fortune. But apparently not for long, as in 1535 
he is the guest of the Abbot Joh. Jakob Russingen 
at Pfaffers, where he wrote and published a treatise 
on the mineral springs at that resort, a work often 
reprinted. In 1536 he is at Ulm and in the same 
year at Augsburg, in both of which cities editions 
of his Greater Surgery appeared in that year. 
Thence to Vienna where it appears he again failed 
to obtain consent to publish certain works and was 
made to feel the unfriendliness of the medical pro- 
fession. In 1537 he revisited his boyhood's home 
Villach where his father had died in 1534, appar- 
ently while Paracelsus was absent in Innsbruck or 
that vicinity. In the same year (1537), as is re- 
corded by Erastus, Paracelsus left in Kromau "a 
chest of books, a part of which he had brought there 
with him, a part he had dictated while there." 

In 1538, he presented to the authorities of the 
Archduchy of Carinthia, with the request that they 
be published, four manuscripts: Chronicles of the 
« Op. fol, I, 356. 

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Land of Carinthia, The Labyrinth of Errors of the 
Physicians, Tartaric Diseases and Defense Against 
the Slanders of His Enemies. The authorities ac- 
cepted these courteously and promised they should 
be published, though the promise was not fulfilled, 
and long afterward the manuscripts and the letter 
of acceptance were acquired by the energetic Huser 
and published in his collection of 1589- 1590. 

Augsburg, Munich, Gratz, seem also to have 
served as resting-places of Paracelsus for brief 
intervals during his later years, before arriving at 
his last brief residence at Salzburg. 

The years from 1531 to 1534 appear to have 
been a period of grinding poverty for Paracel- 
sus. Later years were more comfortable or at any 
rate relieved by periods of more comfortable cir- 
cumstances. Though the physicians were gen- 
erally opposed to him, he was called in quite fre- 
quently to treat wealthy or distinguisTied patients 
in cases where the regular attendant physicians had 
failed to afford relief. According as he was more 
or less successful in his treatment his fortunes fluc- 
tuated. On the whole it is evident that his popular 
reputation was considerable even in these later years 
of disappointment and discouragements. It is re- 
corded, for instance, that in 1537 a dinner was given 
in his honor by the town of Pressburg at the house 
of the Stadtrichter Blasius Beham.'^ 

Taken as a whole, these later years of Paracelsus 

^ Cf. Franz Strunz, Theophrastus Paracelsus, sein Lehen und seine 
Personlichkeit, Leipsic, 1903, p. 7^ 

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may be summarized as a continuous struggle to 
commit to writing, and so far as possible to print, 
his new message to philosophy, to medical theory 
and practice. The volume of work which he suc- 
ceeded in committing to manuscript was, under the 
circumstances which limited his accomplishment, 
indeed remarkable, even eliminating all works of 
doubtful authenticity. 

The recognition he obtained from his works 
during his own life was not great except for -the 
very considerable popularity of his Greater Sur- 
gery, though at the time, surgery as an art was 
held rather in contempt than esteem by the medical 
doctors, and was largely practised by barbers and 
others of less scholarly training. 

The determined and largely successful efforts 
of the conservative medical party to prevent the 
publication of the works of Paracelsus, was in some 
measure a tribute to their potential influence. That 
their fears as to the extent of this influence were 
entirely justified is shown by the great popularity 
of these books when they finally began to appear in 
print. This period of active publication of his works 
began about 1560 and extended for about a hundred 
years. The last printed collection of his works was 
the Latin version of 1658, published at Geneva, 
which in spite of many imperfections met with the 
widest circulation and' is the one best known to the 
medical world generally. 

The great popularity and consequent influence 
upon the time of the works of Paracelsus is evi- 

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denced by the bibliography of his printed works 
compiled by Sudhoff, in which no less than two 
hundred and fifty are recorded as appearing before 
1600. These comprise editions, reprints, transla- 
tions and collected works. By 1658, the year of 
the above-mentioned Latin collection, the record of 
printed publications had reached about three hun- 
dred and ninety. 

The circulation of the medical works of Para- 
celsus initiated the fierce contest between the pro- 
gressive party favoring the use of the so-called 
chemical remedies and more or less influenced by 
Paracelsan theories, and the conservative party, 
holding to the traditional dogmas of the Greek- 
Arabian authorities, and resisting to the utmost the 
radical innovations of the followers of Paracelsus. 

This is not the place to dwell upon this chapter 
of the history of medical science. Suffice it to say 
that gradually the chemical remedies made way 
against the opposition of medical faculties and the 
conservative profession. The University of Heidel- 
berg was compelled by a student revolt to eliminate 
the oath pledging candidates to oppose the use of 
such remedies, and the University of Paris was 
forced to cancel similar legislation by opposition 
among students and members of the medical pro- 
gressive party. It was during this long and bitter 
struggle that many of those reports and rumors 
were initiated that so long discredited the reputation 
of Paracelsus. 

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That with the really progressive influence which 
his ideas exerted, other less progressive and even 
reactionary influences were exerted is also true. For 
many of the more fantastic theories and superstitious 
notions common to his time and contained in his 
writings, doubtless received through the weight of 
his* reputation with his followers a new vitality, and 
his own disregard for the achievements of the an- 
cient Greek physicians was shared in too great a 
degree by his enthusiastic followers. Later critics 
of Paracelsus, however, too often appear to credit 
him with having been the originator of the mystical 
and supernatural ideas of his writings, rather than 
considering them as they were — 3, very full and in- 
deed almost encyclopedic record of the popular 
supernatural beliefs and of the fashionable neo- 
Platonic philosophy of his time and people. That he 
was superstitious is true ; that he, on the other hand, 
often endeavored to bring supernatural ideas, which 
he with others credited, within the domain of natural 
cause and effect we have already seen illustrated. 

Nevertheless, it is true that in the sixteenth and 
seventeenth centuries — and we may say also in the 
nineteenth century — mystics and visionaries have 
sought for and found inspiration in his works. Par- 
acelsus, endeavoring to present a complete system 
of the philosophy of nature, naturally includes and 
attempts to systematize the then accepted facts of 
nature which were credited by the people to which 
he belonged. He relates these just as if he were 
describing any other accepted facts of nature. The 

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following illustration may serve as an example, 
though it reads strangely enough when transplanted 
from the superstitious sixteenth into the clearer in- 
tellectual atmosphere of the twentieth century. It 
is doubtful whether there were many of his day who 
would have found it absurd. 

"For there are real beings who live in all four 
elements [i. e., Air, Water, Earth, Fire] and who 
in former times of nature were often considered 
and worshiped as gods. And it is indeed these 
against whom Almighty God has warned us in His 
commandment on the first tablet of Moses : that we 
shall have no other gods but Him, neither in the 
water — here He means the nymphs — nor under the 
earth — here He means the sylphs and pygmies. 
For He is a jealous God and visits such misdeeds 
of the fathers upon the children unto the third and 
fourth generations. And it is not less true that the 
Venusberg in Italy [sic] was peopled by these, for 
Venus was herself a nymph, and the Venusberg has 
been compared to her kingdom or paradise. But she 
has now perished and her kingdom has passed away 
with her and ceased to exist. For when have we 
heard anything more of them since those old days 
when Tannhauser and others were there. And that 
is no fable about him but a true story. For those 
folk are of such a nature that they love all those 
who love them, and hate those that hate them. 
Therefore to him who binds or pledges himself to 
them they give knowledge and riches enough. They 

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know our minds and thoughts also, so that they 
may be easily influenced to come to us.''* 

With respect to many such records of current 
supernatural beliefs it is perhaps not the peculiarity 
of Paracelsus that he was more credulous than 
others of his time, but that he was peculiar in hav- 
ing the courage to record and at times even to at- 
tempt to explain phenomena which other writers of 
his day with more purely mystical theories hardly 
dared to commit to writing for fear of being sus- 
pected and punished for the possession of occult 
connection with the Evil One. And after all, is not 
the concept of "superstition" purely relative to the 
knowledge and belief of a particular state of knowl- 
edge? For Paracelsus also had his own ideas of 
superstition — "Can that be a proper condition of 
man when he knows nothing? No man of knowl- 
edge has ever remained misled, nor has he ever been 
found superstitious. Where are the superstitions? 
Among those who understand nothing. Where is 
pride? Only among those who lack foundation. 
Where is folly? Only with those who persist in 
their own wisdom and advance no farther into God's 
wisdom. And so when knowledge is made manifest 
and it can find no foundation in their empty skulls, 
they think it must be from the Devil, and sorcery. 
.... For every one should know that all help comes 
from God, for neither to the Devil nor to any sor- 
cerer is it possible." 

While it has been the fortune of many prominent 

« op, fol, II, 291, "De occulta philosophia." 

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names in the history of civilization that their best 
thoughts have been remembered and their weak- 
nesses and vagaries overlooked, it was the fate of 
Paracelsus that for centuries his shortcomings were 
emphasized and exaggerated and his merits mini- 
mized. The period of his activity was distinguished 
by the development of revolutionary ideas, when 
the spirit of modernism was struggling to free it- 
self from the bondage of medieval scholasticism 
And the most revolutionary idea was that of in- 
dependence in questioning and judging authorita- 
tive dogmas sanctioned by centuries of acceptance. 
In this respect Paracelsus was among the greatest 
of his century. That his method was not that of 
modern science may be freely admitted, yet he may 
be credited with some realization of the necessity 
of such method and of foreseeing as he preached 
that ''Experientia est Sciential' 

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THE restless career of Paracelsus came to its 
close in the city of Salzburg in Austria. In 
this his last residence town, his most poverty- 
stricken days past, it seems that he had found a 
comparatively quiet and restful harbor. Probably 
also his health was failing. Though scarcely forty- 
nine years of age he presented the appearance of a 
more advanced age if we may judge from his most 
authenticated portraits — drawings made within two 
or three years before his death. 

His death took place on the twenty-fourth of 
September, 1541. Current legends, originating, 
however, long afterward, attributed various causes 
for his death. It was alleged that he died in a 
drunken debauch, and it was also said that he had 
been murdered by assassins at the instigation of 
professional enemies. Modern researches, however, 
have shown the groundlessness of these rumors and 
brought to light positive evidence in contradiction. 
Investigation of his exhumed remains gives evidence 
on the basis of expert examination that Paracelsus 
had suffered from childhood from rickets, which 
would doubtless account for the early appearance 
of age. 

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Evidently his death was not sudden or unantici- 
pated. Three days before the day of his death, he 
dictated to the public notary his last will and testa- 
ment. This document has been preserved to us, duly 
attested by three witnesses and signed by the notary. 

It begins in the formal and stately legal phra- 

"In the name of God, Amen. Let it be made 
known and manifest to all and every, one who may 
see, read or hear read, this present public instru- 
ment, that in this year after the birth of Christ our 
dear Lord, one thousand five hundred and forty-one, 
on the day of St. Matthew, the holy Apostle, the 
twenty-first day of September, at m;dday, in the sev- 
enth year of the reign of the most holy Father and 
Lord in God, Paul, in God's providence the third 
pope of that name, in my public notaryship and in the 
presence of the hereinafter named witnesses espe- 
cially summoned and besought therefor: there has 
personally appeared the worthy and very learned 
Theophrastus von Hochenhaim, Doctor of the Lib- 
eral Arts and of Medicine, although weak in body, 
sitting upon a couch, yet quite sound in reason, mind 
and spirit. In order that he may not take leave of 
this world without testament and ordering of his 
temporal goods, the same Dr. Theophrastus, with 
plainly comprehensible words, with free will and 
with right knowledge, under no compulsion from 
any one, has done and performed his said necessary 

^ From the text of the testament as given by Netzhammer, op. cit. 

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business and last wishes thereto pertaining in all 
measure and form as hereinafter contained: 


By Ildephons Kuriger. Early 19th century, after drawings by Hirsch- 

vogel and Jenichen. The socle shows Paracelsus's coat of arms. 

''First, he commits his life, death and his poor 
soul to the shield and protection of Almighty God, 

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in the confident hope that the everlasting mercy of 
Gk)d will not suffer the bitter suffering, martyrdom 
and death of His only begotten Son our Saviour 
Jesus Christ to be unfruitful nor lost to him, mis- 
erable creature. 

"Then, that his burial-place has been selected 
by the said Doctor at Saint Sebastian's this side of 
the bridge. There shall be sung in the church, ac- 
cording to ancient usage, the first, seventh and thir- 
tieth [Psalms], and at all three singings a penny 
is to be given in hand to every poor, person before the 

Then are enumerated various bequests of small 
sums of money or articles of personal belongings to 
designated persons or for particular purposes, as for 
instance his medicines, plasters and professional 
books to Master Andre Wendl, citizen and barber 
(therefore also surgeon) of Salzburg. And finally — 

"Fifthly, for all other of his goods and belong- 
ings he institutes and names as his heirs, the poor, 
the wretched and the needy people who have no 
stipend nor other provision." And he directs that 
in this distribution there shall be shown neither 
favor nor disfavor but that only the wants and 
necessities of such poor people shall be considered. 

The inventory of his modest possessions attested 
by the notary and witnesses is very circumstantial, 
cataloging various small sums of money in gold or 
silver coins, silver cups or other vessels, articles of 
clothing and similar personal belongings. It is 
interesting to notice the presence of a copy of the 

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Bible, of the New Testament, a concordance of the 
Bible, the Interpretations of Hieronymus on the 
Evangelists, one printed and seven manuscript vol- 
umes of medical treatises and "various similar col- 
lections,'' also a "collection of several and various 
manuscripts on theology assumed to have been writ- 
ten by Theophrastus." 

That the provisions of his will were faithfully 
executed wg have evidence in the signed and re- 
corded receipt by Peter Wessner, Bishop of Ein- 
siedeln (the birthplace of Paracelsus), for certain 
items of his property bequeathed to him for admin- 

It is a satisfaction to know that Paracelsus in his 
last days seems to have been to some extent relieved 
from the distressing poverty and hardships of ear- 
lier years, and that though held in slight esteem 
by professional colleagues he yet found some who 
held him in estimation. It is also a satisfaction to 
know that he died accepted by the Church many of 
whose doctrines and observances he had so severely 
but so seriously denounced as corruptions, but to 
whose fundamental faith he yet claimed allegiance. 

It is a yet greater satisfaction to know that a 
mass of confusing and discrediting legends and fic- 
tions, which for three centuries have cast unde- 
. served reproach upon the reputation of Paracelsus 
as a man and physician have been shown by modern 
research to be groundless, and that there exists 
nothing that to our present knowledge contradicts 
the inscription originally engraved upon his tomb 

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in the cemetery of the Hospital of St. Sebastian in 
Salzburg, which, translated, reads : 

''Here is buried Philippus Theophrastus, distin- 
guished Doctor of Medicine, who with wonderful 
art cured dire wounds, leprosy, gout, dropsy and ^ ^ 
other contagious diseases of the body, and who gave 
to the poor the goods which he obtained and accu- 
mulated. In the year of our Lord 1541, the 24th 
of September, he exchanged life for death." 

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FriedrichMook, Theophrastus Paracelsus, eine kritische Stu- 
die, Wiirzburg, 1876. 

Karl Aberle, Grabdenkmal, Schddcl und Abbildungen des 
Theophrastus Paracelsus. Salzburg, 1887-91. 

Eduard Schubert and Karl Siidhoff, Paracclsusforschungen. 
2 pamphlets, Frankfort-on-the-Main, 1887-89. 

Franz Hartmann, The Life of Philippus Theophrasttis Bom- 
bast of Hohenheim, Known by the Name of Para- 
celsus, and the Substance of His Teachings, etc. New 
York, n. d. (1887). 

Arthur Edward Waite (editor and translator), The Her- 
metic and Alchemical Writings of Aureolus Philippus 
Theophrastus Bombast of Hohenheim, Called Para- 
celsus the Great, 2 vols., London, 1894. 

Karl Sudhoff, Versuch einer Kritik der Echtheit der Para- 
celsischen Schriften. 

Part I : Bibliographia Paracelsica, Berlin, 1894. 
Part II: Paracelsushandschriften, Berlin, 1899. 

P. Raymund Netzhammer, Theophrastus Paracelsus: Das 
Wissensiverteste iiber ' dessen Leben, Lehre und 

IThis Bibliography includes only the principal authorities con- 

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Schriften und die neuesten Paracelsischen Forschun- 
gen, Einsiedeln, 1901. 

Franz Strunz, Theophrastus Paracelsus: Das Buck Para- 
granum, Leipsic, 1903. 

Franz Strunz, Theophrastus Paracelsus: Sein Lehen und 
seine Personlichkeit, etc. Leipsic, 1903. 

Franz Strunz, Theophrastus Paracelsus: Volumen Para- 
mirum und Opus Paramirum, Jena, 1904. 

John Ferguson, Bibliotheca Chemica. 2 vols., Glasgow. 

John Ferguson, Article "Paracelsus" in the Encyclopcedia 
Britannica, 9th (and later) ed. (1885). 

Hugo Magnus, Paracelsus, der Ueherarzt ("Abhandlungen 
zur Geschichte der Medizin," Vol. XVI). Breslau, 

Anna M. Stoddart, The Life of Paracelsus Theophrastus 
von Hohenheim- London, 1911. 

Agnes Bartscherer, Paracelsus, Paracelsisten und Goethes 
Faust: eine Quellenstudie. Dortmund, 1911. 

Arthur Miiller, Paracelsus und der Trdumer. Dramatisches 
Traumspiel in fUnf Akten, Vienna, n. d. (ca. 1912). 


C. A. Wunderlich, Geschichte der Medizin. Stuttgart, 1859. 

Joseph Bauer, Geschichte der Aderldsse. Munich, 1870. 

Hemrich Haser, Lehrbuch der Geschichte der Medizin und 
der epidemischen Krankheiten, 3d ed., 3 vols., Jena, 

J. H. Baas, Die geschichtliche Entwickelung des drztlichen 
Standes und der medizinischen Wissenschaften. ^ Ber- 
lin, 1896. 

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Troels-Lund, Gesundheit und Krankheit in der Anschauung 

alter Zeiten. Leipsic, 1901. 
Neuburger and Pagel, Handbuch der Geschichte der Medisin, 

3 vols., Jena 1902-05. 


N. Lenglet Duf resnoy, Histoire de la philosophie hermetique, 
3 vols., Paris, 1762. 

Joh. F. Gmelin, Geschichte der Chemie. 3 vols, Gottingen, 

Thos. Thomson, The History of Chemistry. 2 vols., Lon- 
don, 1830-31. 

Karl C. Schmieder, Geschichte der Alchemic, Halle, 1832. 

Ferd. Hoef er, Histoire de la chimie, 2 vols., Paris, 1842-43 

H. Kopp, Geschichte der Chemie, 4 vols., Brunswick, 1843- 

H. Kopp, Die Entwickelung der Chemie in der neueren 
Zeit, Munich, 1873. 

H. Kopp, Beitrdge zur Geschichte der Chemie. 3d section, 
Brunswick, 1875. 

H. Kopp, Die Alchemic in dlterer und neuerer Zeit. Heidel- 
berg, 1886. 

Ernst von Meyer, History of Chemistry (translated by 
George McGowan). 3d English from 3d German 
edition, London and New York, 1906.- 


Christoph Sigwart, Kleine Schriften. 1st and 2d series, 2d 
ed., Freiburg i. B., 1889. 

J. E. Erdmann, A History of Philosophy (English edition 
by W. S. Hough). 3 vols., London, 1892-93. 

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Arthur Moeller van den Bruck, Die Deutschen, Vol. III. 
Minden i. W., n. d. (1904). 

Wilhelm Windelband, Die Geschichte der neueren Philo- 
sophie in ihrem Zusammenhange mit der allgemeinen 
Kultur und den besonderen Wissenschaften. 4th ed., 
2 vols., Leipsic, 1907. 

Alfred Lehmann, Aberglaube und Zauberei, 2d ed., Stutt- 
gart, 1908. 

Ernst Cassirer, Das Erkenntnisproblem in der Philosophie 
und Wissenschaft der neueren Zeit, 2d ed., 2 vols., 
Berlin, 1911. 

Frank P. Graves, Peter Ramus and the Educational Refor- 
mation of the Sixteenth Century, New York, 1912. 

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